Smallest Known Lizard Found in Caribbean

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The researchers got on their hands and knees and rooted through the dead leaves on the ground, watching carefully for movement as they waited to catch a specimen. The lizard has an adaptation that allows its tail to break off very easily—a clever escape tactic in case a predator nabs the creature by its tail. This feature, along with the lizard's small size, makes it particularly tricky to catch.

The researchers collected eight of the lizards for further study. The research is published in the Caribbean Journal of Science.

Not Endangered

Because its habitat is remote, S. ariasae is not currently endangered. But for many species of reptiles and amphibians that occupy specific habitats in the Caribbean forests, once the vegetation is gone, the fauna is likely to follow.

During an assessment of amphibians in the Caribbean commissioned by the World Conservation Union, Hedges found that of 170 amphibians, almost half were endangered. "Of these, only one is currently classified as endangered," he said. "I think I would probably get about the same numbers for reptiles."

Beata is part of the Jaragua National Park in the Dominican Republic. Although all its flora and fauna are protected, Hedges said the island is not adequately protected to prevent further illegal deforestation. "What I have seen raises a lot of red flags," he said.

Many species live in specific niches in small areas of forest. Once these forests are gone, the animals continue to live out their lives "like the living dead," but the environment doesn't support further generations, Hedges said.

In the Caribbean overall, barely 10 percent of the original forests still remain; Haiti has less than one percent.

"Things are changing very rapidly," said Hedges, adding: "The Caribbean will probably be one of the first biodiversity disasters."

Michael Smith of Conservation International expressed similar concerns about the future of flora and fauna in the region. "The Caribbean is one of the richest places on Earth in terms of unique species, but they are extremely threatened," he noted. "If the Caribbean continues to lose species at the current rate, then one of the world's most distinctive natural systems will be devastated in our lifetimes."

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