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“Extinct” Pinocchio Lizard Found in Ecuador

It’s no lie—scientists have spotted a lizard with a nose like Pinocchio in an Ecuadorian cloud 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.

pinocchio lizard picture

The lizard’s superschnoz on display. Photograph by Alejandro Arteaga, tropicalherping.com

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.

Watch a video of the Pinocchio lizard.

“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.”)

pinocchio lizard picture

Only the males have such long noses. Photograph by Alejandro Arteaga, tropicalherping.com

Several teams journeyed to this area of Ecuador to get a closer look. One team, led by Steve Poe, a researcher at the University of New Mexico and an expert at finding hard-to-spot lizards, found that the anoles were actually quite easy to find—if you knew where to look.

Because horned anoles sleep at the end of branches, turning a pale white color as they snooze, Poe’s team discovered that they were easily spotted at night with headlamps or flashlights. The researchers identified several females, none of which had a horn. What the anoles did during the day, however, remained a mystery.

Losos—also a member of the National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration—arrived in Ecuador in 2010 to solve this mystery and study the natural history of the Pinocchio lizard. Unable to find the lizard by searching its known hideouts, Losos did what any good detective would: He set up a stakeout.

His team found the pale lizards at night and simply followed them into the day. This sleuthing revealed why the anoles were very rarely spotted during the day.

Slow, Elusive Lizard

For one, Pinocchio lizards are extremely well camouflaged and live high in the canopy. They also move very, almost ridiculously, slowly—hardly faster than a crawl.

pinocchio lizard picture

Photograph by Lucas Bustamante, tropicalherping.com

The latest team to discover the lizard also made some new discoveries about where the Pinocchio lizard lives.

“We discovered this lizard occurs in habitats very different to what has been suggested in the literature. No one had ever found the lizard in deep cloud forest away from open areas. The other sightings were in [the] forest border,” Arteaga said in a statement. (Also see “Pictures: 24 New Caribbean Lizards Found.”)

“It’s nice that this group spotted these anoles again,” Losos said. “What we really need are people to just go out into nature and study these creatures for a few months. It’s not that hard to do.”

Scientists have discovered similar horned anoles in Brazil, but a closer analysis revealed that these two species had evolved their horns independently.

And as for what the nose is used for, no one knows. Losos once suspected the males might use the horns in swordfighting-like duels, but the horns are far too flimsy and flexible to be used in such a way.

What do you think the horn is used for? Share your ideas below!

Follow Carrie Arnold on Twitter and Google+.

Comments

  1. georgr
    virginia
    April 22, 11:31 am

    10 millions years this lizard was bigger than an anteater..and that is what he did with his long nosr..eat ants…lol

  2. sophie
    ecudoor
    April 18, 4:59 pm

    cool

  3. ErnestoDelMundo
    Chile
    March 29, 10:41 am

    The nose looks like the tail. This would confuse and surprise predators and make it easier to escape an attack by predators. Several other animals use this trick, including insects that have a fake pair of “eyes” on their tail to make their tail resemble their head.

  4. Matthew Newton
    United States
    January 24, 1:09 pm

    maybe the horns are used to establish superiority say the an younger male with a small horn came across an older male with a big horn the older male then flails his horn. this action tells the younger male this is the older males territory and all the females there belong to him. so the younger and smaller horned male runs off. the horn might also be used attract a mate the bigger and brighter the horn the more interested the female will be in the male

  5. adam
    uk
    January 11, 2:13 pm

    Fantastic species, I hope to god these become available to start a captive breeding programme.

  6. karen m kalpin
    Newmarket Ontario Canada
    December 29, 2013, 3:53 pm

    The proboscis cannot be for finding food, balance or any other ‘task’ that supports basic living else the females would also need them. Therefore, reason states it must be something to do with mating such as;….. maybe lets off some type of odour, chemical etc. to attract females, or the opposite – the proboscis is used by the males to detect signs that females want/or ready to mate? I know zero about the mating habits of lizards so just guessing! :)

  7. football head
    October 20, 2013, 7:56 am

    maybe the horn is used to attract females. or males. whatever the lizards are into.

  8. teuku fadel mikraj
    sukabumi,west java indonesia
    October 19, 2013, 3:27 am

    i think that’s a new reptile species
    very wonderful lizard with a long nose

  9. levent atalay
    Tulsa,Oklahoma
    October 17, 2013, 12:21 am

    Hi. i’m a reptile breeder and just heard of this event. I was wondering if anyone is captive breeding them right now?,and who i have to talk to about this topic if i want to acquire a pair

  10. Thom McCann
    NY
    October 15, 2013, 12:01 am

    Another reason not to believe what anthropologists say.

  11. Charlie Vogt
    Quito, Ecuador
    October 12, 2013, 10:11 am

    I was the one who rediscovered it. While leading a birdtour near Mindo a lizard ran into the road and stopped so I braked and got out to look and photograph it. Months later at Harvard’s Museuem of Comparative Zoology I visited Jose Rosado, curator of Herps who said its rare. We went to the collection and found the type specimen A. proboscis 1953, so 51 years it was lost. http://www.andeanbirding.com/html/research.html#art10

  12. Dwight
    October 12, 2013, 7:10 am

    Pinocchio lizard really that’s lame why not unicorn lizard?

  13. Charles P. Crawford
    Tampa
    October 12, 2013, 3:32 am

    Assumptions. The lizard’s proboscis doesn’t have to have any “purpose”. What if It’s just there and it doesn’t have anything to do with survival?

  14. Jesse Sanchez
    Tulare, CA
    October 11, 2013, 9:44 pm

    It could quite possibly be to extract moisture out of the air. It doesn’t seem logical because the lizard lives in the rainforests, but there is a lizard that lives in the desert that ha glands that pulls moisture and water from all over his body to his mouth to help with hidration.
    Another idea could be that because amphibians are presumably cold blooded, the Pinocchio lizard could use it to help extract heat.

  15. Kyle Doyle
    University of Rochester
    October 11, 2013, 7:37 pm

    It would seem to me that this lizards nose could serve one of two possible purposes. It seems plausible that the nose could act in a similar way to many other anoles tails, detaching when attacked, allowing the lizard to get away.

    However, the more plausible, second theory, is that the nose serves some purpose during matting ritual. This would seem more probable as the species exhibits sexual dimorphism, signaling that the feature is likely linked to mating. While sword-fighting is unlikely, it is equally possible that pinnochio lizard females, just like a guy with a big schnaz.

  16. Angelica Lopez
    Ecuador
    October 11, 2013, 7:25 pm

    The article is kind of viral and has a lot of misleading information. How can people use the word “Rediscovering” just like that? What about the spotting on 2005? http://www.anoleannals.org/2013/10/11/the-rediscovery-of-anolis-proboscis-and-the-evolution-of-a-viral-internet-news-story/

  17. Susan Perry
    Virginia Beach, VA
    October 11, 2013, 7:17 pm

    Maybe it is for a lure/hunting. Here dragonflies and insects similar to them land on protruded structures such as stem tips, new growth on branches, car antenna etc. Perhaps they “sleep” at the end of the branches in hopes to catch one landing.

  18. Weber
    China
    October 11, 2013, 3:47 am

    The horn might be used to attract the female. The horn was unique for the male.

  19. John Henry
    October 10, 2013, 11:58 pm

    maybe its for show off only for attracting the females(just like other lizards do)

  20. Fioda
    October 10, 2013, 11:07 pm

    Maybe the protrusion is used for competitions for females, or to find their food ,like Tarsipes spencerae.

  21. Seth
    Australia
    October 10, 2013, 10:12 pm

    Since we have not seen the males use these glorious probuscises, can we just assume that they use them to shoot lightning at each other?

  22. Lucas
    October 10, 2013, 9:50 pm

    Did you know extinct species that were rediscovered like the Pinocchio, are called Lazarus Taxon?

  23. Susan WIllis
    Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts USA
    October 10, 2013, 9:05 pm

    Balance

  24. Shelby
    United States
    October 10, 2013, 6:54 pm

    They may be used to show off for females

  25. Jenny H
    October 10, 2013, 11:47 am

    Their magnificent noses possibly evolved to:
    impress the females, (they are impressive enough to us, another species);
    make their competitors think twice–”en garde!”;
    act as a pseudo branch or lure for unsuspecting insects—zip! (Maybe the proboscis emits an enticing aroma.)
    Could it be used for pollen or nectar harvesting?
    Perhaps they are paternal herders: “Go this way, son!”
    Or they’re just pointing towards heaven.
    Thanks for the beautiful photos!

  26. Bruno
    Puebla, México
    October 10, 2013, 11:36 am

    maybe like a extrasensorial organ, or use ir for orientation, camouflage, or competition for females; the longest and colorful horn win the female, or intimidate

  27. Leonardo V.
    MG, Brazil
    October 10, 2013, 11:02 am

    Despite the surprise of the discovery, we still have a raindrop exploding on its head at the moment of the photo. No more comments… Doubly blessed photographer. Congratulations. ;)

  28. Jacob
    Vancouver, British Columbia
    October 10, 2013, 10:18 am

    I have a feeling the nose is either used for courtship rituals or for intimidation (be it of other animals or of lizards of it’s kind)…..bear with me, I realize these are not the most intimidating creatures but when it comes down to it, every millimeter counts!

  29. chuck
    October 10, 2013, 9:19 am

    Nice proboscis

  30. Bill
    Somerset County, NJ
    October 10, 2013, 7:21 am

    I have always liked Nat Geo, even as a kid. My Dad used to get the magazine and looking at the big bright magazine with colorful pictures always kept my attention. I am usually on here during the day at work. I read the articles while doing my work in my cube. I usually get very jealous at the folks who are out there exploring the world we live in and of course, taking fantastic photographs. Please keep up the great work you guys are doing!

  31. Leenoh
    Korea
    October 10, 2013, 2:34 am

    It’s probably to be used as boosting himself or camouflage as a long thing branch when they need to hide from predators. And I think it is used as it wants to be shown bigger or more scary than as usual it was shown before.

  32. JIm
    Mesa, AZ
    October 10, 2013, 12:25 am

    It’s used to signal a female that her date has arrived. If honked 3 times, it means she should hurry. One long honk means he’ll be plowing other pastures.

  33. Sonia Sullivan
    October 9, 2013, 5:56 pm

    Maybe it’s horn helps him find food.

  34. Tyler
    October 9, 2013, 5:53 pm

    The nose looks almost like the caudal lure of a Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix).. Maybe it’s used to lure in prey – that would be an awesome method and location for it if my theory holds weight.

  35. Mark Arjomandi
    San Diego, CA
    October 9, 2013, 2:34 pm

    Maybe its horn is used to attract females?

  36. almarea
    troy
    October 9, 2013, 1:59 pm

    they need a better video with information…..seriously.

  37. Alexander
    Romania
    October 9, 2013, 12:12 pm

    I think that its used as a tool for feeding, in like eating insects or grubs

  38. pirah Uqaili
    karachi, pakistan
    October 9, 2013, 12:09 pm

    It might use its nose for smelling prey

  39. Ashley Smith
    Derbyshire
    October 9, 2013, 12:03 pm

    I know this sounds stupid, but I thought the title was on about the extinct lizard being sold on Amazon on the internet for people to buy xD Maybe we should look for more extinct species and buy through Amazon!

  40. Hunter Larsen
    Shawano, Wisconsin
    October 9, 2013, 12:02 pm

    Maybe the horn is used for catching food?

  41. Andrew E
    October 9, 2013, 11:32 am

    I think Karyl C nailed it… Most times in nature, as we see with the birds of paradise, a vestigial appendage is simply years and years of females preferring a certain trait in they manz.

  42. D. Melton
    Hampton Roads, VA
    October 9, 2013, 7:22 am

    Perhaps camouflage to more resemble foliage. It also resembles the tail of the lizard…perhaps to fool predators.

  43. Brian Neufeldt
    Calgary, Ab.
    October 8, 2013, 9:57 pm

    In every photo, the male is holding his horn in the air. Perhaps it is used as a phallic symbol.

  44. Carrie Arnold
    October 8, 2013, 9:55 pm

    Thanks for those corrections–I updated the post.

    Cheers!

  45. Jose Ibañez Jr.
    Zamboanga City Philippines
    October 8, 2013, 6:56 pm

    I suspect that these protrusions on the pinocchio lizard serves as a mating signal to females during courting much like the Draco lizards use dewlaps or skin extension on their throat to signal females during courting.

  46. Karyl C
    October 8, 2013, 6:52 pm

    The “horn” may simply be a result of epigamic selection; females just dig them! As with the showy and cumbersome feathers of male peacocks, female choice is driving this flamboyant feature that makes the ‘lil lizard irresistible.

  47. Kenneth Weaver
    Fallbrook, California
    October 8, 2013, 6:37 pm

    Mindo is located on the west slope of the Andes not in the Amazon. The title of this article needs revising.

  48. Jaime Culebras
    Ecuador
    October 8, 2013, 5:25 pm

    Hi, I’m a member of Tropical Herping. I tell you this species of lizard (Anolis proboscis) was finding in a Tropical Cloud Forest, in Mindo, West of Ecuador (arround 1500 meters). No in Amazon!!

  49. Carlos Chungata
    Quito, Ecuador
    October 8, 2013, 4:12 pm

    Just to clarify, the town of Mindo isn’t in the Amazon rainforest but rather in northwestern Andes rainforest. Cheers