New species of dragon-like lizard discovered in tropical Andes

An adult male of Enyalioides feiruzae showing its contrasting orange head. Credit: Pablo J. Venegas

The Huallaga River in the Andes of central Peru stretches 1,138 km, making it the largest tributary of the Marañón River, the spinal cord of the Amazon River. This basin is home to a wide variety of ecosystems, including the Peruvian Yunga ecoregion, considered a refuge for endemic birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

How is it then that this corner of the tropical Andes is still poorly understood by biologists? The main reason is indeed quite simple and it lies in the civil wars with terrorist organizations and drug traffickers that were taking place in the region in the 1980s, disrupting biological studies.

It was only at the end of the 1990s that the Peruvian government was able to liberate the area, and it was then that, little by little, some biologists began to venture again into the Huallaga valley. However, the destruction of forests by coca plantations during the internal war, which ultimately led to the construction of a hydroelectric power station, left the Huallaga Valley highly fragmented, making research on biodiversity in the region even more urgent. .

A new species of wood lizard, Enyalioides feiruzae, was recently confirmed in the premontane forest of the Huallaga river basin and described in the open-access, peer-reviewed scientific journal Evolutionary Systematics. It took researchers seven years of field surveys to formally describe it. To do this, they first had to spend many nights in the forests, hand-picking lizards that slept on bushes 20-150 cm above the ground.

New species of dragon-like lizard discovered in tropical Andes

Another adult male of Enyalioides feiruzae showing the extreme intraspecific variation of this species. Credit: Pablo J. Venegas

Feiruz woodland lizards, especially males, come in an amazing variety of colors. Males may have turquoise-brown, gray, or greenish-brown backs with pale lines. Females, in turn, can be greenish-brown or mealy brown, with faint dark brown lines on the back, limbs and tail, and spots on the sides.

Researchers believe that E. feiruzae may have established itself as a distinct species after being geographically separated from a very similar lizard, E. rudolfarndti, possibly due to tectonic activity and climatic oscillations that occurred from the Late Oligocene to Lower Miocene.

The Feiruz Wood Lizard was named after, you guessed it, Feiruz, “a female green iguana, lifelong muse and friend.” The owner of Feiruz the Iguana, Catherine Thomson, supported the authors’ efforts in taxonomic research and nature conservation.

The habitat of E. feiruzae is highly fragmented with cropland and pasture for cattle ranching, and so far we only know of one protected population in Tingo Maria National Park. Much remains to be discovered about the size and distribution of E. feiruzae and their ability to survive and adapt in a fragmented landscape.

The new species belongs to the genus Enyalioides, which comprises sixteen species. More than half of the known Enyalioides species have been described in the past two decades, largely thanks to recent surveys carried out in remote locations in the tropical Andes of Ecuador and Peru.

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More information:
Pablo J. Venegas et al, A new species of wood lizard (Hoplocercinae, Enyalioides) from the Río Huallaga basin in central Peru, Evolutionary systematics (2021). DOI: 10.3897 / evolsyst.5.69227

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