New Giant Lizard Discovered in the Philippines

Scientists couldn’t see the lizard for the trees.

But now they’ve tracked down and named Varanus bitatawa, a skittish reptile that’s hard to spot even though it grows up to 2 meters long and sports bright yellow speckles.

In forests on the Philippine island of Luzon, the newly discovered monitor lizard hauls itself up into trees in search of fruit and melts into the vegetation if humans approach, says herpetologist Rafe Brown of the Biodiversity Institute at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He and his colleagues describe and name the species in paper published online the week of April 5 in Biology Letters.

The species is “new to us,” Brown clarifies, because the Agta and Ilongot peoples living in forests of the Sierra Madre range know the lizard well — as a delicacy. It mostly eats fruit and reportedly tastes better than a much more common scavenging monitor that’s “attracted to stinky stuff,” Brown says.

A cousin to the giant Komodo dragon, Varanus bitatawa is hard to find but once detected, is pretty hard to ignore. During adulthood, yellow markings differentiate it from a much drabber neighbor — though both species sport colorful patterns as juveniles.

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