Just in time for the premier of the next TV season of Game of Thrones, scientists have discovered a new species of dragonlike creatures in the Andean cloud forests of Ecuador and Peru.
No, these scaly creatures don't breath fire nor will they lead an army across the Narrow Sea to conquer Westeros, but these dwarf dragons do represent progress in the discovery of previously unknown lizards in this hotbed of biodiversity.
Newsweek magazine reported that the new species of wood lizards – called Enyalioides altotambo, Enyalioides anisolepis and Enyalioides sophiarothschildae – was discovered in a region of the Amazon known as "the global epicenter of biodiversity" with "20,000 plants found nowhere else and at least 1,500 unique terrestrial vertebrates, including a spectacular array of birds and amphibians."
When the scientists first started researching the wood lizards back in 2006, only seven species had been discovered and recorded – making them one of the less diverse groups of South American lizards. Now there are 15 known species of the tiny dragons, the new ones being the largest and most colorful to be found in the Andes.
"During the last few years we doubled the number of known species of wood lizards, showing that the diversity of these conspicuous reptiles had been underestimated," Omar Torres-Carvajal from Museo de Zoología QCAZ in Ecuador told Newsweek. "That more than half of the diversity of a group of large, dragon-looking reptiles from South America has been discovered in recent years should be heard by people in charge of conservation and funding agencies."
To figure out if the tiny dragons were a new species, the scientists compared the animals' patterns, body shapes and sizes to attributes of previously collected species, as well as their DNA.
While the new discoveries were shocking because of their relatively large size, what really has scientists flummoxed is the fact that it took so long to find them.
"Wood lizards are fairly large and conspicuous, so it's interesting that roughly half of the currently recognized species have been discovered in the last 10 years," Kevin de Queiroz, Torres-Carvajal's supervisor at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, said in an email to Smithsonian. "This illustrates how much we still have to learn about South American reptiles."