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For decades scientists lamented about the demise of the gorgeous Pinocchio lizard. Now it turns out that the reptile, while still rare, is very much around in the cloud forests of South America , an area known for its stunning flora and fauna.
Named after the wooden puppet that was prone to fibbing due to its sharp pointed nose, the exotic lizard was first discovered in 1953. Following that it was spotted only on a handful of occasions during the next 15 years, after which it completely disappeared and was believed to have become extinct. Then in 2005, the reptile also known as the Ecuadorian Horned Anole was spotted by a group of bird watchers as it crossed a road. Following that it disappeared again for another five years! Just as scientists were getting ready to declare it extinct (again!), the crafty lizard appeared - This time, for a group of herpetologists that were on an expedition led by Harvard University researcher Jonathan Losos, in the summer of 2010.
The latest sighting which occurred earlier this year, but was only revealed last week, was by a group of researchers from Tropical Herping, who had been looking for the mystical reptile for three years!
Paolo Escobar, Lucas Bustamante, Diana Troya and Alejandro Arteaga were determined to seek out this elusive creature partly because of the great mystery that surrounds it and partly because they needed a picture for their new book about the Amphibians and Reptiles that reside high up in the cloud forests of Mindo in northwest Ecuador.
And though they had to search long and hard, the researchers say it was worth every minute! As Arteaga recalls - It was way past midnight and the team was walking across a cold-water stream on a chilly night, deep in the midst of the cloud forest when Paolo Escobar suddenly saw it - just two meters above the water, covered in dew, the beautiful lizard was sleeping peacefully - Their quest was finally over!
The lizard that is rare to begin with, is even more elusive because of its clever camouflage that allows it to blend seamlessly into the thick vegetation of the cloud forest. In fact, the only way to find it is at night because similar to other diurnal anoles it turns a pale whitish color, making it easier to spot especially with headlights.
As for the purpose of the elongated beautifully pointed nose that has made the lizard so famous? Turns out that nobody really knows - Initially, researchers believed that it may have been used by the reptiles to defend their territory, but given that the nose is completely flexible and can easily bend, that theory had to be tossed out. Given that it is only the male lizards that sport the beautiful nose, it's only purpose may be to attract females, similar to how male peacocks sport gorgeous tail feathers. Whatever it is, the nose sure makes the males look stunning.
As to when another one of these Pinocchio lizards will be spotted? That is anybody's guess but given that they have always been found on the same stretch of road, chances are the next one will be cruising somewhere right around there, maybe five years from now, to assure us that while endangered, it is still definitely around!