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Calotes wangi: New iguana species identified in China

Researchers are describing a new iguana species in southern China which was previously mistaken for a closely related species, Calotes versicolor. 

The experts confirmed that the iguana is genetically distinct from other members of the genus Calotes, and have named the new species Calotes wangi, or Wang’s garden lizard.

Distinguishing features 

The experts found that Calotes wangi has many distinguishing characteristics, including a length of less than 9 centimeters and an orange tongue.

The species name wangi is a tribute to Professor Yuezhao Wang, a former director of the Amphibian and Reptile Research Laboratory and Museum of Herpetology.

Unexpected discovery 

The research team, led by Yong Huang from the Guangxi University of Chinese Medicine, published their findings in the journal ZooKeys.

“From 2009 to 2022, we conducted a series of field surveys in South China and collected a number of specimens of the Calotes versicolor species complex, and found that the population of what we thought was Calotes versicolor in South China and Northern Vietnam was a new undescribed species and two subspecies,” said Huang.

The study authors noted that the new species is similar to Calotes irawadi, “but differs in having scales between the nasal shield and the orbit and a fourth toe with a claw that can reach between the eyes and tympanum (even to the snout when hind the limbs are adpressed forward).”

Habitat and lifestyle 

According to Huang, Calotes wangi is found in subtropical evergreen broad-leaved forests and tropical monsoon forests in southern China and northern Vietnam, mostly in mountainous areas, hills and plains on forest edges, arable land, shrub lands, and even urban green belts.

“It is active at the edge of the forest, and when it is in danger, it rushes into bushes or climbs tree trunks to hide. Investigations found that the lizards lie on sloping shrub branches at night, sleeping close to the branches,” said Huang.

The small iguana eats a variety of insects, spiders, and other arthropods. “It is active from April to October every year, while in the tropics it is active from March to November or even longer,” wrote the study authors.

Conservation status

The researchers noted that the new species is not considered threatened, but may be impacted by habitat fragmentation. “In addition, their bodies are used medicinally and the lizards are also eaten,” they wrote.

The experts suggest that the local government strengthen the protection of their ecological environment and pay close attention to the population dynamics.

Cryptic lineages 

“Based on extensive spatial sampling across China and comprehensive data on morphology and genetics for species delimitation, we add a new species and more stability to the systematics of Calotes,” wrote the study authors.  

“Another interesting finding from this study is the presence of subspecies, which highlights the need for more thorough geographic sampling to uncover cryptic lineages.”

image Credit: Huang et al.

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