Pinocchio Lizards Not Extinct as Scientists Had Thought They Were


Pinocchio Lizards are long-nosed lizards which have been in the news lately. The Pinocchio Lizard, otherwise known as the Ecuadorian Horned Anole lizard, was originally discovered in 1953. In the following five years, only five of the species were spotted by researchers. Since then, scientists have thought that it had gone extinct, but it’s very much alive, though sightings are still rare.

The reappearance of the Pinocchio Lizard has been reported about in a journal called Breviora. The lizard belongs to a family of other anoles, some of which also live part of their time in the ocean. The males have long proboscises, or noses, that some have thought resemble horns,  but which has earned this particular lizard the name of Pinocchio Lizard.

The Ecuadorian Horned Anole, or Pinocchio Lizard, might look strange, but how can you not like an animal named after a marionette who dreams of being a living boy?

The semiaquatic types of horned anoles are A. Barkeri. There’s a blue variety of the lizards called A. Gorgonae, and even one which lives on cliff sides, called A. bartschi.

Steven Poe and his team of researchers, from New Mexico’s  Museum of Southwestern Biology and the Department of Biology, have stated that two species of the horned anoles have been recently rediscovered after having been thought to be extinct.

The extinction of the Pinocchio Lizards was theorized to be the result of the destruction of their natural habitats, and indiscriminate logging of the  rainforest where it lives.

Professor Jonathan Losos of Harvard University, who is also the Curator of Herpetology of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, has a website devoted to the anole lizard called Anole Annals. There, he has written about the reemergence of the Pinocchio Lizard.

Surprisingly enough, according to Professor Losos, they were rediscovered by birdwatchers in 2005 as they were crossing a road. They took photographs of the lizard, and when they uploaded them, that’s when the images of the Pinocchio lizard first came to the attention of Steven Poe.

The challenge then became for the herpetologists to find the lizards on their own. It was easy for the birdwatchers to spot the Pinocchio lizard, as its green color contrasted with the road they spotted it walking on. But, finding it in the dense foliage of the South American rainforests  proved to be more difficult for the intrepid researchers.

It wasn’t until 2009 that Poe and his team of researchers finally found the Pinocchio Lizards for themselves. They were in the town where they had been spotted in 2005 by the birdwatchers, Mindo, Ecuador, searching for them late at night. That’s when the lizards sleep on the branches and leaves of bushes and trees.

Poe and his colleagues discovered a large number of the lizards, because when flashlights are shown on them, they look a pale whitish color at night.

Another team of researchers, Tropical Herping, also spotted the elusive lizards after attempting to find them for three yeas. It was an important finding for them, because they wanted to establish proof that the species hand’t gone extinct. Also, they had been working on a book called Amphibians and Reptiles of the Mindo region, and the Pinocchio Lizard was the last one they needed to find to make the book complete.

Scientists believe that the Pinocchio Lizards use their long and flexible noses to attract and seduce the females of the species. They can somehow move their horns, or noses, from side to side when they come within sight of a potential mate.

According to Losos, the horn is used for purposes of either competing with other males for a potential mate, or possibly just to attract a female for mating purposes.

That the lizards can move their horns at all was a surprise to Losos, as it’s attached right “at the tip of the snout, where there shouldn’t be any muscles.”

Now, the researchers are anxious to learn even more about the Pinocchio Lizards, and to study them in their natural habitats.  That will be the next phase of discovery for the two research teams as they discover more and more facts about the amazing Pinocchio Lizards, which had  been considered to be extinct for decades, but which have resurfaced, very much alive.



Written by: Douglas Cobb

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