Scientists have recently confirmed that a unique species of monitor lizard, initially described in the early 19th century, is still alive and well on the island of New Ireland in northern Papua New Guinea. It is said to be "the only large-growing animal endemic to the island that has survived until modern times."

The lizard was first discovered by French naturalist René Lesson, when he was visiting the island with the La Coquille exploration ship in 1823. He subsequently named the species Varanus douarrha.

Unfortunately, however, the specimen that he collected was most likely lost on its way to France, when the ship that was carrying it was wrecked at the Cape of Good Hope in 1824. As a result, scientists didn't have a holotype (a name-bearing specimen), so the animal's status was left somewhat ambiguous.

Since then, although it was known that monitors existed on the island, it was suspected that they belonged to the species Varanus indicus – it's the common mangrove monitor, which is found throughout northern Australia, New Guinea and surrounding islands.

Recently, however, Valter Weijola from the University of Turku, Finland, spent several months surveying monitor lizards on the Bismarck Islands, of which New Ireland is one. He claims that based upon new morphological and genetic studies, the island's resident monitors have existed in isolation long enough to form a distinct species – the originally-described Varanus douarrha.

Such a discovery actually isn't all that unusual. Because monitor lizards tend to inhabit remote areas where they're difficult to study, new species are uncovered with some regularity.

A paper on the research was recently published in the Australian Journal of Zoology.

Source: University of Turku

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