By Carrie Arnold
It’s no lie—scientists have spotted a lizard with a nose like Pinocchio in an Ecuadorian rain forest. What’s more, the long-nosed reptile was thought extinct, having been seen only a few times in the past 15 years.
“It’s hard to describe the feelings of finding this lizard. Finding the Pinocchio anole was like discovering a secret, a deeply held secret. We conceived it for years to be a mythological creature,” Alejandro Arteaga, a photographer and one of the lizard’s spotters, said in a statement.
Not surprisingly, the defining feature of the Pinocchio lizard—properly named Anolis proboscis, or the horned anole—is the male’s long protrusion on the end of its nose. Far from being a sturdy, rigid structure, researchers have found that the horn is actually quite flexible. (See a picture of a Pinocchio frog found in Indonesia.)
Despite its peculiar appearance, the reptile wasn’t formally described by scientists until 1953. They managed to save only six specimens, all of which were male. It was spotted several times in the next few years, all near the town of Mindo, Ecuador (map), and then the species seemed to vanish.
“For 40 years, no one saw it. At that point, we thought the species had gone extinct,” said Jonathan Losos, an evolutionary biologist and herpetologist at Harvard University who has studied the animal.
Why Did the Lizard Cross the Road?
Then, in 2005, a group of bird-watchers near Mindo spotted a strange-looking lizard crossing the road. One of them shared a picture when they got back home, and herpetologists realized that the Pinocchio lizard was still alive and well. (Also see “Photos: Bubble-nest Frog, Other ‘Extinct’ Species Found.”) More....