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.
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
Contact: Barbara K. Kennedy