Meet Varanus bitatawa, a new species of a giant fruit-eating lizard — closely related to the Komodo Dragons of Indonesia. Kansas University's Rafe Brown found this yellow and black spotted reptile in the Philippines' Luzon Island. The Economist says it is as long as a man.
Published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, the authors insist that this discovery is "rare":
“As human populations increase, forested regions of the planet are charted, and large intact tracts of forest continue to shrink or become fragmented.”
Despite scientific ignorance over the reptile’s existence, local residents have apparently known of the lizard for many years – in fact, it’s an important component of the local diet.
While the locals knew about the lizard long ago, the reptile's massive size, scale pattern, and DNA show that the 22-pound creature is indeed new to science. The lizard had another distinguishing feature: a double penis. However, The Telegraph is quick to point out why the lizard's package is not that big of a surprise and is actually "completely normal."
Considering the lizard's out-of-sight tendencies, the scientists were lucky to stumble upon the lizard. National Geographic reports:
These fruit-eating lizards are also "incredibly secretive," said study team member and biologist Daniel Bennett of Mampam Conservation.
"You could stay in that forest for years and have absolutely no idea that they are there," Bennett said. "They spend all their time high up in trees, more than 20 meters [66 feet] above the ground." Similar lizard species spend less than 20 minutes on the ground per week, he added.
Despite the creature's elusive nature, the scientists were tipped off when they saw a 2001 photograph of hunters eating the lizard. The lizard provides a good source of protein for the indigenous group in the Isabella and Aurora Provinces, report the scientists. The photograph prompted Brown and his students to set off on a two-month expedition last summer. Due to scheduling issues, Brown left early. But his students were sure to notify him of their discovery through a text message, reports Wired.
Credit: Photo copyright Joseph Brown / Courtesy of University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute (via Sciencedaily.com)