Sam Sweet, a professor in the department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology at UCSB, and Valter Weijola, a graduate student at Abo Akademi University in Turku, Finland, are the first to describe the distinctive lizard, which lives in the Moluccan islands of east Indonesia. Sweet is an authority on monitor lizard biology.
This is Varanus obor, the Sago monitor, or Torch monitor lizard. Credit: Valter Weijola
Sweet describes an important biological context: "East of Wallace's Line –– the boundary between Asian and Australian domains –– there are no native carnivorous mammals, and monitor lizards fill that role. There are more species there, doing more different things ecologically than in Africa or South and Southeast Asia, where competition and predation by mammals tend to keep monitor lizards down. East of Wallace's Line in Indonesia, New Guinea, and Australia, monitor lizards are on the top of the heap. It emphasizes again how little we know about some tropical regions, to find an animal so strikingly colored and so large only last year."
Weijola discovered the lizard last spring, and returned with Sweet in late 2009 for five weeks to do studies and take photographs of the animal. The Torch monitor is most common in the coastal sago palm swamps and belongs to the mangrove monitor, V. indicus group.
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