24 February 2009
The incredibly cute pygmy chameleon species at right was first discovered this past fall. Researchers credit its survival and that of other rare plants and animals that live with it in a forest in northern Mozambique to a long civil war, which has damaged roads and so made it difficult to reach the forest.
Brachylophus bulabula (left) is another newly discovered lizard. It lives in wet forests on a Fiji island. It is one of only three iguana species left in Fiji, and all are in danger. People have eaten some species to extinction and introduced cats (which eat iguanas) and goats (which compete with the iguanas for food).
Conolophus rosada (right) is found only on one volcano in the Galapagos Islands. Discovered in 1986 and thought to be a variant of another kind of iguana, it was last month announced to be a new species. Its tiny population may be in danger because of introduced cats and goats.
In the Komodo National Park in Indonesia, according to the Wall Street Journal, human interference has broken an ancient symbiosis between komodo dragons and humans. Until recently, people revered the dragons and left them offerings of goats and deer parts. Dragons left the people alone, both because the long-lived lizards recognized the people who fed them and because dogs kept the huge dragons from getting too close to homes.
Then park authorities—ironically, on advice from environmentalists— banned deer hunting and goat sacrifice and outlawed dogs. As a result, the komodo dragons now must hunt all their own food, and they go for the easy pickings in the villages, eating chickens, goats, and the occasional person. For the full story, see the article “When Good Lizards Go Bad.”
In addition to being beautiful and interesting creatures, lizards prey on species humans consider pests. Lizards are useful in other ways as well. The rare Gila monster (Heloderma suspectum, at right), which lives in the Southwest and in Mexico, has poisonous saliva. An analog of a chemical in the saliva is now an injectable type 2 diabetes drug called exenatide (Byetta). Exenatide boosts insulin secretion, but only when blood glucose levels are high, thus making hypoglycemia unlikely.