Dragons in the Andes


Dwarf dragons have been discovered in the Andes, and represent some of the largest lizards in the rainforest. Right now, there are a known 4,500 different species of lizards and more are still being discovered. Three new woodlizards were discovered recently. There is still more to discover and more that can be learned about different species.

In the South American cloud forests, dragons can be found. Cloud forests are at a high enough altitude, that the tropical forests are always covered in mist and fog. Dwarf dragons, or woodlizards, are distinct reptiles, that are brilliant neon green and blood red. Some really do look like mini dragons and have spikes and flaming red eyes.

There are three new species of dragons that have been discovered in the cloud forests of the Andes in Peru and Ecuador. They are in the same classification as iguanas. The count for this ‘dragon’ species is up to 15. The people who discovered these, three new beautiful creatures, are publishing their report in ZooKeys this week.

Omar Torres-Carvajal did his postdoctoral work at the Smithsonian Institution in 2006. At that time only a few of the dwarf dragon species were known. Herpetologists (Zoologists who work with reptiles and amphibians), thought dwarf dragons were the least distinct group of lizards in South America. Torres-Carvajal found out different.

These dragons prefer the humid environments of the cloud rainforests. They eat small insects and worms. They were found in the central part of the conservation area. Conservation efforts are being headed up by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, that includes scientists and researchers from all over the world, finding ways of protecting life in the rainforest.

In the past seven years, Torres-Carvajal and his colleagues, have found seven new dwarf dragon species in Ecuador and Peru. On their last trip, the dwarf dragons were easy to find, as they were running around during the day. The team compared the lizard’s body shapes and sizes, eye color and any patterns they could find. Then, they looked for any other attributes that matched previous species. DNA was compared between the new lizards, and the ones that were already in the database. This is how the three new species were discovered.

The Alto Tambo woodlizard (Enyalioides altotambo), was the first lizard discovered. It was named after a small village in northwestern Ecuador, where it was found. The males look like baby iguanas. The females are more tubular with smooth scales that are equal in size.

Next, they found the rough-scaled woodlizard (Enyalioides anisolepis) on the slopes of the Amazonian Andes, in southern Ecuador and northern Peru. This lizard looks more like a mythical dragon. The entire lizard is covered in studded scales. It also has three different color groups, from burnt orange to brown and bright green to black.

The third lizard discovered was the Rothschild’s woodlizard (Enyalioides sophiarothschildae). This is an aggressive lizard, that has a brown and black slender body, with bright green tipped spikes. It has bright white patches of scales around its mouth and neck.

The team believes that there are even more types of dwarf dragons in South America. Woodlizards are between three to six inches (7 to 15 centimeters) long. They are one of the largest lizards in the rainforest. This is why these Andes lizards are referred to as dragons. Their colors help them blend into their surroundings. Half of the 12 recognized species, have been discovered in the past ten years.

By Jeanette Smith


Smithsonian Magazine

Christian Science Monitor


Photo courtesy of Silvain de Munck – Flickr License

You must be logged in to post a comment Login