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Three new monitor lizards from the Philippines described

Results reveal again the underestimated diversity of these giant lizards in insular southeast Asia

German scientist André Koch from the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig (ZFMK) in Bonn together with his supervisor Prof Dr Wolfgang Böhme and another colleague described two new monitor lizard species (Varanus spp.) and one new subspecies from the Philippines. Their comprehensive study of the Philippine water monitors revealed that despite the recently discovered new fruit-eating monitor species from the main island of Luzon by an American-Philippine research team, the actual diversity of these giant lizards in the archipelago is not yet understood. The species descriptions were published in ZOOTAXA, the world’s foremost journal for taxonomic zoology.

“After the spectacular discovery of several new monitor lizards from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi three years ago, our present results demonstrate that the diversity of water monitor lizards in the Philippines has also been largely underestimated” says André Koch, who will soon complete his doctoral thesis at the University of Bonn. Southeast Asian monitor lizards are the main focus of his dissertation, which he writes at the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig (ZFMK).
Prof Böhme, vice-director of the ZFMK and head of the herpetology section, has investigated monitor lizards for over 20 years, and adds: “It’s amazing that these largest living lizards of the world have been neglected for so long and that new species come up time and again. It shows that even with large vertebrates not all species on our planet are recognized and named. There are too few experts in the world, the education level at universities is declining, and the essential knowledge about the global biodiversity stands to get lost!”
Co-author Dr Maren Gaulke (GeoBio-Center LMU, Munich), an expert for Philippine reptiles, particularly monitor lizards, has been studying the biology of these impressive giant reptiles for 25 years: “Monitor lizards are fantastic creatures. They are agile, powerful, and the most intelligent lizards of the world.”
The three newly described Philippine monitors were identified based on examination of numerous preserved voucher specimens in various major European natural history museums, in combination with long-term studies in the field. This is a convincing demonstration of the immense importance of such museum collections as the archives of global biodiversity. Unfortunately, in times of limited public funding, necessary curatorial positions often remain unfilled once a scientist is retired. This gravely affects not only the relevant collections but also the related field of study.
Thus, one of the new monitor species, which is known from only two specimens in the Zoological Museum of Copenhagen, was named after the late Jens B. Rasmussen, former herpetologist in that museum, whose position was not reopened again. Thereby, the authors want also to call attention to the global taxonomy crisis.

The Philippines comprise more than 7,000 tropical islands. This island nation is well known for its extraordinary biological richness and diversity. It is one of the biodiversity hotspots of our planet, a real megadiversity country. This is not only true for coral fishes or butterflies and other small insects, but also for the large predators in this region, the monitor lizards (genus Varanus).
An earlier study on the systematics and diversity of Southeast Asian water monitor lizards (Varanus salvator, see Koch et al. 2007) showed that the three Philippine members of this group, originally treated as subspecies, actually represent distinct species that can be distinguished from each other by significant differences. Thus, the three newly discovered monitor lizards virtually double the number of known Philippine water monitors.


Pictures for this press release are available at:


One of the new monitor lizard species from Palawan Island, Philippines. (Copyright: Ingo Langlotz)



Map: Map of the Philippine Islands showing the distribution ranges of the new monitor lizard species: V. marmoratus = red; V. nuchalis = blue; V. palawanensis = green; V. rasmusseni = black; V. c. cumingi = yellow; and V. cumingi samarensis = purple. Question marks denote the water monitor populations from Mindoro, Basilan, and northern Borneo of unknown taxonomic status. The grey shaded areas indicate the extent of submerged land of several Pleistocene aggregate island complexes, which today, form biogeographic provinces of the Philippines: I = Greater Palawan; II = Greater Luzon; III = Greater Negros–Panay; IV = Greater Mindanao; and V = Greater Sulu. (Copyright: Maren Gaulke & André Koch)

Literature source:   
KOCH, A., GAULKE, M. & BÖHME W. (2010)
Unravelling the underestimated diversity of Philippine water monitor lizards (Squamata: Varanus salvator complex), with the description of two new species and a     new subspecies. Zootaxa 2446: 1-54.
Additional reading:
KOCH, A., AULIYA, M., SCHMITZ, A., KUCH, U. & BÖHME, W. (2007)
Morphological studies on the systematics of Southeast Asian water monitors (Varanus salvator complex): nominotypic populations and taxonomic overview. In: HORN, H.-G., BÖHME, W. & KREBS, U. (Eds), Advances in Monitor Research III, pp. 109–180.
2010 – International Year of Biodiversity
Contact, photos and further information:
Dipl.-Biol. ANDRÉ KOCH

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