New Monitor Lizard Species Discovered on Mussau Island

Posted on February 24, 2016

Varanus semotus head and tongue

A new species of monitor lizard has been discovered on Mussau Island, a remote island in Papau New Guinea. The blue-tailed lizard s the only large-sized land-living predator and scavenger native to the island. It can reach up to a meter in length.

The research study was led by alter Weijola, a graduate student from the University of Turku, Finland. In addition to a distinctive blue tail that lizards also have a pale yellow tongue. This trait is shared by only three other species of Pacific monitors. The new species, named Varanus semotus, eats crabs, other reptiles, reptile eggs and small birds.

Weijola says in a statement, "Usually monitors like these will eat just about anything they can catch and kill, as well as carcass and turtle eggs when available. While young, Pacific monitor lizards are highly secretive and subsist mainly on insects and other small animals."

Genetic studies indicate the species has been isolated for at least 1 to 2 million years. Weijola says, "For anything to arrive on Mussau (from New Guinea or New Britain) it would need to cross 250-350 kilometers of open sea, and this doesn't happen frequently. So, once the ancestor arrived, perhaps in the form of a gravid female, the population must have been completely isolated."

A research paper on the lizard can be found here in the journal ZooKeys.

Varanus semotus on a tree


Photos: Valter Weijola