Three New Species of 'Dwarf Dragon' Discovered in South America

Enyalioides sophiarothschildae, one of three new species discovered in the Andes
Enyalioides sophiarothschildae - one of three new species of wood-lizard discovered in the Andes of Peru and Ecuador. Pablo J. Venegas

Three new species of dragon-like creatures have been discovered in the Andean cloud forests of Ecuador and Peru.

The new species of wood-lizards - called Enyalioides altotambo, Enyalioides anisolepis and Enyalioides sophiarothschildae - were discovered in an area described by conservation group Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund as "the global epicentre of biodiversity" with "20,000 plants found nowhere else and at least 1,500 unique terrestrial vertebrates, including a spectacular array of birds and amphibians".

Recording the findings in the journal Zookeys, the authors explain that numerous recent discoveries - 40% of all species of wood lizards in the two countries have been discovered in the last seven years - could be explained by the previously poorly explored terrain in the Andean cloud forests.

Assessing DNA samples following expeditions to the cloud forests, Omar Torres-Carvajal from Museo de Zoología QCAZ in Ecuador, Pablo J. Venegas from CORBIDI, Peru, and Kevin de Queiroz from the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in the U.S. realised they had discovered three new species.

The findings were somewhat surprising, they write, because the lizards are some of the largest and most colourful to be found in the Andes. The number of known species of wood-lizards now stands at 15.

Dr Torres-Carvajal explained that when he first worked with wood lizards in 2006 only seven species had been discovered and recorded, and they were seen as one of the less diverse groups of South American lizards.

"During the last few years we doubled the number of known species of wood lizards, showing that the diversity of these conspicuous reptiles had been underestimated," he said.

"That more than half of the diversity of a group of large, dragon-looking reptiles from South America has been discovered in recent years should be heard by people in charge of conservation and funding agencies."