Mussau Island in the southwest Pacific Ocean is several hundred kilometers from Papua New Guinea and is as remote as it gets. Maybe that’s why it’s not so surprising that a new species of monitor lizard has been discovered there.
The blue-tailed monitor lizard, Varanus semotus, can grow more than 3 feet in length and is the only large, land-living predator on the island, according to a press release put out by the University of Turku in Finland.
University of Turku graduate student Valter Weijola described the reptile as a “biogeographical oddity” living in dry coastal vegetated areas of Mussau.
“Isolation is the keyword here,” Weijola said in the release. “It is what has driven speciation and made the South-Pacific region one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. For anything to arrive on Mussau (from New Guinea or New Britain) it would need to cross 250-350 kilometers of open sea, and this doesn’t happen frequently. So, once the ancestor arrived, perhaps in the form of a gravid female, the population must have been completely isolated.”
“These islands are full of unique creatures often restricted in distribution to just one island or island group,” Weijola added. “Yet, we know relatively little about them. Even large species of reptiles and mammals are regularly being discovered, not to mention amphibians and invertebrates. This is what makes it such a biologically valuable and fascinating region.”
Varanus semotus is black in coloration with a body averaging about 3 feet in length. Its tail is about 1.5 times the length of its body. A noticeable feature is that the skin on the body also features yellow and orange markings, while the tail exhibits turquoise to bluish coloration. It feeds on crabs, other reptiles, eggs, and birds.