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Large, Colorful Monitor Lizard Discovered – the Second New Monitor This Month!

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

Black Tree MonitorThe 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.

Further Reading

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

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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