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SCIENCE REPORT – December 13, 2001: Smallest Lizard - 2001-12-12

This is the VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT.

American scientists say they have discovered the world’s smallest lizard. The little reptile is only about sixteen millimeters long. The scientists found it on a small island in the Caribbean Sea near the Dominican Republic. The Caribbean Journal of Science published the findings.

Pennsylvania State University scientist Blair Hedges and Richard Thomas of the University of Puerto Rico made the discovery. They found small groups of the new kind of lizard on Beata Island in the Dominican Republic. The lizards live in the Jaragua National Park, an area created for the protection of wildlife. The creatures were found underground in a forest that was partly destroyed.

The lizards are dark brown and similar in appearance to another kind of lizard that also is considered the world’s smallest. That lizard was discovered in the British Virgin Islands in Nineteen-Sixty-Five. The new lizard is said to be the smallest of all twenty-three-thousand kinds of reptiles, birds and mammals known to scientists.

The scientists named the new lizard Sphaerodactylus ariasae. They named the creature in honor of Yvonne Arias, an environmental activist in the Dominican Republic. She leads an organization that was established to protect wildlife in the Jaragua National Park.

The lizard is just one of several very small creatures found in the Caribbean. The area is home to the smallest frog in North America and the world’s smallest bird and snake.

Biologists have studied the area in the Caribbean for hundreds of years. But until now, they did not know that this species of lizard existed. The scientists say their discovery shows that scientists still do not know everything about Earth’s many creatures.

Mister Hedges says the environment that the lizard needs to survive is disappearing quickly. He says the lizards and other creatures will disappear if their forests are destroyed. People are cutting down trees in the national parks for farming and for fuel. Economic problems and a lack of law enforcement are partly to blame for the loss of forests in the Caribbean area.

Mister Hedges says the destruction of the environment is the major threat to plants and animals around the world. He says the Caribbean has an usually high percentage of endangered species that live nowhere else in the world.

This VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT was written by George Grow.