Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

World's Smallest Lizard Discovered In Caribbean

Date:
December 3, 2001
Source:
Penn State
Summary:
The world's smallest lizard has been discovered on a tiny Caribbean island off the coast of the Dominican Republic. The newly discovered species not only ranks as the smallest lizard, but it also is the smallest of all 23,000 species of reptiles, birds, and mammals, according to a paper to be published in the December issue of the Caribbean Journal of Science by Blair Hedges, an evolutionary biologist at Penn State, and Richard Thomas, a biologist at the University of Puerto Rico.

The world's smallest lizard has been discovered on a tiny Caribbean island off the coast of the Dominican Republic. The newly discovered species not only ranks as the smallest lizard, but it also is the smallest of all 23,000 species of reptiles, birds, and mammals, according to a paper to be published in the December issue of the Caribbean Journal of Science by Blair Hedges, an evolutionary biologist at Penn State, and Richard Thomas, a biologist at the University of Puerto Rico.

Related Articles


So small it can curl up on a dime or stretch out on a quarter, a typical adult of the species, whose scientific name is "Sphaerodactylus ariasae," is only about 16 millimeters long, or about three quarters of an inch, from the tip of the snout to the base of the tail. It shares the title of "smallest" with another lizard species named Sphaerodactylus parthenopion, discovered in 1965 in the British Virgin Islands. Hedges and Thomas discovered small groups of the new species living in a sink hole and a cave in a partially destroyed forest on the remote island of Beata, which is part of the Jaragua National Park in the Dominican Republic.

"Our discovery illustrates that we still don't know everything about the Earth's species, even in areas that are very close to the United States," Hedges says. "The island home of this tiny lizard is closer to Miami than Miami is to Puerto Rico, and we did not even know the species existed, although the area has been studied by biologists for several hundred years." Hedges says the habitat that this species needs to survive is disappearing rapidly. "People are cutting down trees even within the national parks and, if they take the forest away, these lizards and other species will disappear."

Economic and law-enforcement difficulties are contributing to deforestation of the Caribbean forests, which are even more fragile and more threatened than those in the Amazon of South America because they are so small. "In the Caribbean, forests that used to cover all of the land now typically cover less than 5 percent--and they are being cut down at an increasing rate, mainly for subsistence farming and fuel," Hedges says. "Although there are laws against cutting down trees in the national parks, the enforcement of the laws is not enough to protect the forests, for a variety of reasons."

Hedges and Thomas went to the remote Isla Beata specifically with the goal of discovering previously unknown species that might be living there. "We tend to explore more rugged and hard-to-reach areas than other scientists," Hedges says.

The "smallest" and "largest" species of animals tend to be found on islands, the researchers say, because species can evolve there over time to fill ecological niches in the habitat left vacant by other organisms that never reached the remote locations. If a species of spider is missing from an island, for example, the lizards there might evolve into a very small species to "fill" the missing spider's ecological niche.

"Habitat destruction is the major threat to biodiversity throughout the world," says Hedges, who has studied Caribbean species for many years, and has long recognized it as a "hot spot" of threats to biodiversity. "The Caribbean is now widely recognized by conservationists and biologists as an ecological hot spot because it clearly is an area that has an unusually high percentage of endangered species that occur nowhere else in the world," Hedges says. "Most land species on Earth have evolved to live in forested regions, and now humans are destroying the forests--which is a big problem, especially on islands, where species have restricted ranges."

"It is hard to say whether this lizard is as small as a lizard can get, but you would think it probably is approaching that limit because it is the smallest of all 23,000 known species of reptiles, birds, and mammals," Hedges says. "The smaller an animal gets, the larger its surface area gets as a percentage of the volume or mass of its body. At some point, it gets to be physiologically impossible to get any smaller." For the lizard, which lives in a dry environment surrounded by comparatively moist leaf litter, the limiting factor is the danger of desiccation. "If we don't provide a moist environment when we collect them, they rapidly shrivel right up and die by evaporation from the proportionally large area of their surface," Hedges explains.

Hedges and Thomas named the new lizard in honor of Yvonne Arias, a champion of conservation efforts in the Dominican Republic. Arias is president of the organization known as Groupa Jaragua, a non-governmental organization set up specifically for preserving the biodiversity of the Jaragua National Park.

Hedges and Thomas have discovered and described more than 50 new species of amphibians and reptiles throughout the Caribbean, mostly for genetic and evolutionary studies. Finding them, collecting them, and naming them is a necessary first step for other types of research. Hedges says this exploration and discovery of new species also is critical for protecting biodiversity. "It is difficult to protect a species when you don't know it exists," he says.

This research was sponsored by the Biotic Surveys and Inventories program of the U. S. National Science Foundation.

PHOTOS:High-resolution images of the lizard plus other images and information are available from a link on the web at http://www.science.psu.edu/alert/Hedges11-2001.htm.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Penn State. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Penn State. "World's Smallest Lizard Discovered In Caribbean." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 December 2001. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/12/011203060321.htm>.
Penn State. (2001, December 3). World's Smallest Lizard Discovered In Caribbean. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 26, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/12/011203060321.htm
Penn State. "World's Smallest Lizard Discovered In Caribbean." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/12/011203060321.htm (accessed January 26, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Monday, January 26, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Florida Might Legalize Black Bear Hunting

Florida Might Legalize Black Bear Hunting

Newsy (Jan. 24, 2015) A string of black bear attacks has Florida officials considering lifting the ban on hunting the animals to control their population. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ebola Killing Large Portion Of Ape Population

Ebola Killing Large Portion Of Ape Population

Newsy (Jan. 23, 2015) Experts estimate Ebola has wiped out one-third of the world&apos;s gorillas and chimpanzees. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Controversy Shrouds Captive Killer Whale in Miami

Controversy Shrouds Captive Killer Whale in Miami

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Jan. 23, 2015) Activists hope the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) will label killer whales endangered, allowing lawyers to sue a Miami aquarium to release an orca into the wild after 44 years. Jillian Kitchener reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
‘Healthy’ Foods That Surprisingly Pack on Pounds

‘Healthy’ Foods That Surprisingly Pack on Pounds

Buzz60 (Jan. 23, 2015) Some &apos;healthy&apos; foods are actually fattening. Fitness and nutrition expert John Basedow (@JohnBasedow) shines a light on the sneaky foods like nuts, seeds, granola, trail mix, avocados, guacamole, olive oil, peanut butter, fruit juices and salads that are good for you...but not so much for your waistline. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins