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Scienists Seek Answers To Elusive Lizard's Prodigious Proboscis

posted 24 Oct 2013, 09:23 by Mpelembe   [ updated 24 Oct 2013, 09:24 ]

The elusive Pinocchio Lizard, believed for more than fifty years to be extinct, has become a major attraction for scientists since its rediscovery in 2005. The lizard - or anole - is

native to a small slice of rainforest in Ecuador but is gaining attention mainly for the long flexible horn that protudes from its snout.

MINDO, ECUADOR  (TROPICAL HERPING HANDOUT) -  A group of amphibian and reptilian researchers are leading expeditions through the cloud forests of northern Ecuador to study the recently rediscovered Pinocchio lizard in its natural habitat.

Researchers from the tourist group Tropical Herping first found the elusive lizard in January 2013 and have since been studying and photographing the reptile, for decades thought to be extinct.

Scientifically called the Anolis proboscis, but commonly known as the Pinocchio Anole because of the distinctive flexible appendage that extends from the snout of the male, the lizard was originally rediscovered in Ecuador's Mindo region in 2005. Since then, researchers and reptile enthusiasts have sought out the mysterious lizard to learn more about its life cycle and habitat.

"It was believed extinct for nearly 50 years, since it was first described in the 60s. And there was no report of observations until Charlie Vogt, an ornithologist, who found an individual in 2005," Tropical Herping biologist, Alejandro Artega said.

The recent finds have thrilled herpetologists who've come to the remote forest region to study the reptile.

Artega and other researchers from Tropical Herping spent years searching for the rare lizard before finally identifying one in January of this year.

Male Pinocchio Anoles come in varying colors and measure just between 134 and 171 millimeters (5.3 - 6.7 inches) while females are strictly green in color, do not have the "Pinocchio nose" and measure between 149 and 178 millimeters (5.8 - 7 inches).

But it's the male that attracts the most attention. Photographer James Christensen travelled a long way just to take its picture.

"I would have to say the so called Pinocchio lizard, the Anolis proboscis, is the most extraordinary thing that I have encountered. Because of the mystery associated with the animal. The history of study of it, and how elusive it was for such a long time. So when I learned that the animal was here in Mindo, in this area, I decided to begin to look for it,"

said Christensen.

Scientists believe the reptile managed to elude researchers for so long, in large part because of their camouflaged skin which allows them to hide in plain sight.

But researchers also believe there are only a limited number of the lizards which remain endangered and are only thought to exist in fewer than 12 localities, which collectively account for less than 500 square kilometers in northern Ecuador, according to the Tropical Herping website.

The team hopes to be able to learn more about the lizard now that they know it exists and have had some success in locating specimen.

"Whenever species that were thought to have disappeared for sometime are found it is very motivating for researchers because it makes us think that the little we knew about their behavior, where they lived, what these species do, was limited. It normally happens with species that have a small distribution range, have good camouflage, or that are simply restricted to an area that scientists can't reach," Tropical Herping biologist, Lucas Bustamante said.

The team says there is still a lot to learn about the Pinocchio Anole, from the purpose of its proboscis, to the range of its distribution. They say the more they can learn, the better equipped they'll be to ensure its protection.