Herpetologists still reeling from the recent (April, 2010) discovery of the 6-foot-long Northern Sierra Madre Forest Monitor (Varanus bitatawa) in the Philippines have had yet another shock this week – a large, Red-Headed Monitor Lizard, previously unknown to science, has surfaced in Indonesia! A glossy black body and brilliant red head led to its being christened the Torch Monitor. Also known as the Sago Monitor (Varanus obor), it is the only Varanid that sports red coloration.
An Island Holdover
The Torch Monitor’s only known habitat is the tiny Indonesian Island of Sanana, which is located in the Sula Island Chain, northwest of New Guinea. Writing in the journal Zootaxa, researchers theorize that the Torch Monitor may have become isolated from related species when its island home drifted away from New Guinea millions of years ago. Living in isolation, it evolved into a new species.
A Hotbed of Monitor Diversity
Due to the absence of large carnivorous mammals, monitor lizards reach their greatest species diversity in Indonesia, Australia and New Guinea. From small, arboreal species such as the Black Tree Monitor (please see photo) to the massive Komodo Dragon (please see photo), monitors in this region fill ecological roles held elsewhere by mammals and raptors.
This situation leads to some quite “un-monitor-like” habits – the newly discovered Northern Sierra Madre Forest Monitor, for example, subsists almost entirely upon fruit. The Torch Monitor, which may be related to the Forest Monitor, appears to consume a more traditional monitor diet of birds and their eggs, small mammals, invertebrates and carrion.
The official announcement of the new species and photographs are posted on the website of the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Black Tree Monitor image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by RKlawton