Scientists study rare 'Pinocchio Lizard' in effort to save it

April 2, 2015, Virginia Tech
Researchers seek to know more about the 'Pinocchio Lizard' to save it from extinction. Credit: Ignacio Moore/Virginia Tech

For more than 50 years, scientists thought that the horned anole lizard—sometimes called the "Pinocchio Lizard" for its long, protruding nose—was extinct. But it turns out this is a tall tale.

Scientists re-discovered the lizard in 2005, living elusively at the tops of tall trees in the cloud forests of Ecuador—the only place in the world that it is known to exist.

A team led by a Virginia Tech scientist recently uncovered new information about the role that the lizard's long nose plays. Only the males have long noses, and they appear to be used in social interactions, both among males and between males and females.

Previous investigators had wondered if the nasal appendage served as a weapon of some sort in male-male interactions.

"It's important that we learn as much as we can about the , social behavior, and ecology of this lizard, in order to save it from true extinction," said Ignacio Moore, an associate professor of biological sciences in the College of Science, a Fralin Life Science Institute affiliate, and a faculty member with the new Global Change Center at Virginia Tech.

Moore and his colleagues presented their findings at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology in West Palm Beach, Florida. Quirola is now preparing an article about the findings.

While in Ecuador on research sabbatical, Moore partnered with Omar Torres-Carvajal, a faculty member at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador in Quito, and Torres-Carvajal's undergraduate student Diego Quirola.

Late at night, wearing head lamps and shimmying up trees, the team was able to catch a few dozen lizards. They held them in an outdoor facility built to mimic the lizards' natural habitat and observed them for a couple days, after which the lizards were returned to the exact branch where they were found.

"We were able to observe and videotape 11 copulations and two male-male combat scenarios," said Quirola. "The nasal appendage was not used as a weapon in these interactions but was used as part of the social displays. The appendage is lifted during the social interactions although what role this specific movement plays is unclear."

What is becoming clear is that the appendage is an important part of their social interactions and a unique aspect of the natural history of this remarkable lizard.

"Ultimately we are interested in knowing about the evolution of this appendage, which is only found in two other species of anole lizards from Peru and Brazil. Do males with larger appendages dominate those with smaller ones? Do females prefer males with larger appendages? Did the appendix evolve under sexual selection? We hope to get some answers," said Torres-Carvajal.

Since it's rediscovery in 2005, the Pinocchio lizard is quickly becoming a commodity for its strange beauty and rareness, with pet smugglers offering large sums of money for its capture.

"It's important for scientists to educate the public about the biological importance of this lizard. It is not a pet but a truly remarkable product of nature," said Moore.

Explore further: Scaly gem discovered in South American cloudforests

Related Stories

Scaly gem discovered in South American cloudforests

May 21, 2014

Field and laboratory work by Omar Torres-Carvajal from Museo de Zoología QCAZ, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, and his former undergraduate student Simón Lobos has resulted in the discovery of a gem-looking ...

Personality and sex explain learning ability in a lizard

March 12, 2014

(Phys.org) —Researchers have discovered that the sex and personality of lizards can influence their learning ability, with males faring better than females in spatial learning, and bold or conversely shy personalities faring ...

Mapping lizard venom makes it possible to develop new drugs

February 24, 2015

Lizards and other reptiles are not normally considered venomous, but a number of lizard species actually do produce and use venom. The most classic venomous lizard is no doubt the gila monster – a heavy-bodied lizard. As ...

New horned lizard species found in southern Mexico

May 15, 2014

An article published in the current issue of the journal Herpetologica describes a new horned lizard species that lives in Mexico. Body size, tail length, and scale texture and layout distinguish this new species, which the ...

Recommended for you

Meteorite source in asteroid belt not a single debris field

February 17, 2019

A new study published online in Meteoritics and Planetary Science finds that our most common meteorites, those known as L chondrites, come from at least two different debris fields in the asteroid belt. The belt contains ...

Diagnosing 'art acne' in Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings

February 17, 2019

Even Georgia O'Keeffe noticed the pin-sized blisters bubbling on the surface of her paintings. For decades, conservationists and scholars assumed these tiny protrusions were grains of sand, kicked up from the New Mexico desert ...

Archaeologists discover Incan tomb in Peru

February 16, 2019

Peruvian archaeologists discovered an Incan tomb in the north of the country where an elite member of the pre-Columbian empire was buried, one of the investigators announced Friday.

Where is the universe hiding its missing mass?

February 15, 2019

Astronomers have spent decades looking for something that sounds like it would be hard to miss: about a third of the "normal" matter in the Universe. New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped them ...

What rising seas mean for local economies

February 15, 2019

Impacts from climate change are not always easy to see. But for many local businesses in coastal communities across the United States, the evidence is right outside their doors—or in their parking lots.

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Jonseer
1 / 5 (2) Apr 03, 2015
what's the confusion, clearly it is used as a letter opener. ;)
Iochroma
1 / 5 (2) Apr 03, 2015
Big hands, big feet, big nose; you do the math...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.