Scientists have discovered a new species of monitor lizard, a close relative of the Komodo dragon.
Sam Sweet, a professor in the department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology at UCSB, and Valter Weijola, a graduate student at Abo Akademi University in Turku, Finland, say that the distinctive lizard lives in the Moluccan islands of east Indonesia.
The scientific name of this lizard is Varanus obor; its popular names are Torch monitor and Sago monitor.
It’s called Torch monitor because of its bright orange head with a glossy black body. Obor means torch in Indonesian. It is a close relative of the fruit-eating monitor lizard recently reported from the Philippines.
The Torch monitor can grow to nearly four feet in length, and thrives on a diet of small animals and carrion.
The Torch monitor exists only on the small island of Sanana in the western Moluccan islands. A unique aspect of this geographical region is the lack of mammalian predators, which may have given reptiles the space to evolve as the top terrestrial predators and scavengers.
Several million years ago, this island was situated near New Guinea, and it is possible that the lizard lives on as a relic from that period.
It is the only black monitor in its lineage, and the only monitor species anywhere that has evolved red pigmentation.
The new discovery has been reported in the journal Zootaxa this week.