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Researchers recently reported the discovery of three new species of dragons in the Andean cloud forests of Ecuador and Peru. However, don't run for cover yet, for these are not fire-breathing beasts that kidnap fair maidens and battle knights in shining armor. Instead, they are just tiny wood lizards that are often referred to as 'miniature dragons' thanks to their close resemblance to the mythical creatures.
Though giants amongst the smaller lizards that dwell in the Amazon rainforests, wood lizards measure a mere three to six inches in length. The diurnal creatures feature intricately patterned skins that help them easily blend into their lush environment. The three new species unveiled by a team of scientists led by Omar Torres-Carvajal of Ecuador in the scientific journal Zookeys on April 6th, add to the twelve already known to scientists.
According to Omar, when he began researching wood lizards in 2006, only seven species of the colorful dragons had been found. In fact, scientists had concluded that they were one of the less diverse groups of South American lizards. Hence finding new ones always comes as a pleasant surprise. What's cool is that each of the newly found miniature dragons have distinct coloring and features.
Named after the town of Alto Tambo, Ecuador where the lizard was discovered, this reptile sports a bright green color and a thick neck. According to the researchers, both male and female lizards bear an eerie resemblance to "Gronckle" the toughest (and slowest) dragon in the "How to Train Your Dragon" movie series.
Discovered in northern Peru, the wood lizard is greenish-black, with a distinct white patch near its throat and large scales across its spine. It was named after a donor to BIOPAT, a German nonprofit organization that funds biodiversity and conservation research.
'Anisolepis' means unequal scales in Greek. This is a fitting name for the five-inch long reptile that has scales of varying sizes on its legs, flanks and back. It also has conical spikes emerging from the back of its head. While the males are a black and green hue, the females are speckled light brown. The tiny dragons are found at altitudes of between 2,375 to 5,715 feet in northern Peru and southern Ecuador.
While these are certainly amazing, there may be many more miniature and perhaps even giant dragons just waiting to be discovered in the Andean cloud forests. According to conservation group Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, the pristine region is home to 20,000 unique plants, over 1,500 terrestrial vertebrates and thousands of amphibians and birds. We, for one, cannot wait to find out what the scientists uncover next.
Resources: livescience.com, Time.com, Smithsonianscience.org