The Ecuadorian Horned Anole is an aesthetically unorthodox-looking lizard, and has remained a long-lost mystery to many a scientist. However, their remarkable reappearance has recently provided an incredible opportunity for experts to address some of the many unanswered questions surrounding these fabled creatures.
There have been a host of species of proboscis anoles (Anolis proboscis) documented, with male members of the species boasting the highly scaly snout protrusions, for which the creature is notorious; these include the semiaquatic forms of the creature, A. Barkeri, a blue species called A. Gorgonae and a vibrant, cliff-dwelling variant, called A. bartschi.
According to Steven Poe and his colleagues, who were principally based at the Department of Biology and Museum of Southwestern Biology, in New Mexico, two of these species had been previously rediscovered, after dropping off the herpetologist community’s collective radar.
The first official reports of the elusive Ecuadorian Horned Anole lizard’s return have only just recently been published in Breviora. The horned anole (A.K.A. the Pinocchio Lizard) was originally unearthed in 1953 and, over the ensuing five years following its discovery, another five of the lesser spotted creatures were identified. The Horned Anole gained its name because of the long, rhinoceros-like structure that juts from its snout.
However, all of a sudden, in the decades that followed its finding, there were no further sightings. Saddening die-hard lizard-lovers, it seemed the Pinocchio Lizard had become extinct. Many sought to attribute their absence to destruction of their natural ecosystems, and deforestation practices.
The Hunt for a Long-Lost Lizard
Professor and Curator of Herpetology at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Jonathan Losos, who works at Harvard University, discussed the recent reemergence of the lizard on his Annole Annals site. According to Professor Losos, amazingly, in 2005, a group of birdwatchers had stumbled across the legendary lizard crossing a road.
After taking snaps, they uploaded their photos onto the Internet, drawing the attention of Steven Poe, an anole-hunting specialist, alongside another team of independent researchers, hailing from the Ecuadorian Museum of Science in Quito.
Herpetologists were to be faced with the immense task of finding these creatures for themselves. The bird watchers were extraordinarily lucky in their discovery, as the lizard was plain to see, contrasting visibly against the backdrop of the road. However, the Ecuadorian Horned Lizard has evolved unbelievable camouflage, helping it to remain concealed amongst the dense foliage of the beautiful South American forests; this presented quite a conundrum for the research teams.
In 2009, Poe led a team of researchers into Mindo, an Ecuadorian town where the lizard had first been discovered. Poe and colleagues hunted the Pinocchio Lizard late at night, at a time when they settle and sleep on the twigs and leaves of the canopy overhead.
Unexpectedly, the group found an abundance of lizards belonging to the Ecuadorian Horned Anole species. At night they are far easier to spot, transitioning into a pale, white color, readily detectable by torchlight. This then led to the team performing further observations.
After three hard years of scouring the forests of South America, a team from Tropical Herping made similar discoveries. Alejandro Arteaga, one of the team’s researchers, expressed his excitement after having found the majestic creature, which was found coated in glistening dew in a forest in northwestern Ecuador:
“We wanted to find it because it is a fantastic and mysterious creature that has remained unknown for almost all human beings for decades. Also, we needed pictures of the species for a book about the Amphibians and Reptiles of the Mindo region. It was the only lizard we were missing.”
Phil Torres who works with Destination Ecuador in Mindo, endorsing a variety of conservation campaigns, explains the thrill of working in Ecuador:
“There is a lot of excitement in these discoveries, and each region can offer something unique, from Pinocchio lizards to new species of glass frogs.”
In terms of their bendable, rhino-like protrusions, scientists suspect that the males use these flexible structures to seduce the opposing sex, moving their horns from side to side upon approaching their desired mate.
The Glass Frog Discovery
Meanwhile, Torres was referring to a series of recent sightings of the glass frog (Hyalinobatrachium pellucidum), based in western Ecuador and the Amazon slopes. The frog has recently appeared on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of threatened species, with fewer than 5,000 thought to be in existence.
Although the glass frog was originally discovered in 1872, by John Lynch and William Duellman, the creature is very infrequently seen these days.
The quirky organism is no bigger than the size of a fingernail, possessing translucent skin, through which all of its internal organs can be seen, including the intestines and liver; even the little frog’s heart can be seen pounding within its see-through chest.
The frog reproduces by depositing its eggs on plant life that hangs over large bodies of water; tadpoles then develop within streams, before maturing to their adult form. However, some frogs will devour their young, whilst others may be very territorial over their spawn.
Now that the Ecuadorian Horned Anole, a long-lost lizard, has finally reappeared, scientists can knuckle down and continue to learn about their ecology and behavior. Exciting, new developments in the field of Herpetology await.
By: James Fenner
Tropical Herping Website