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New Species... Print E-mail

Notes on some recently described monitor lizards from Indonesia.

Daniel Bennett, Dept. Zoology, University of Aberdeen, Tillydrone Avenue, AB24 2TZ, Scotland.

Published in Terrariet 8 (7), 2001 (in Swedish).

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Varanus mabitang
In my Little Book of Monitor Lizards, published in 1995 I suggested that "the monitor lizards of Indonesia are a taxonomist's paradise, providing they do not get seasick". Since then four new species have been described from the region, but seasickness has not been an issue because all the newly described species are known only from the pet trade or from 19th century specimens in museums. Civil unrest and forests fires in the early 1990's forced Indonesian reptile collectors to find new places to catch animals and entirely new species of monitor lizards began to appear in the pet trade.

In 1995 a very striking monitor appeared in the US. Named Varanus yuwonoi, after the well respected animal exporter Frank Bambang Yuwono, the animal was said to have originated from Halhamera, east of Sulawesi.
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Varanus macraei - Photo by Hans Jacobs


Shortly afterwards a bright yellow monitor lizard, clearly quite unlike any known species, began to appear in Europe and the US. The yellow monitor lizard was named Varanus melinus, and its range was said to be the island of Obi south of Halmahera and the Sula Islands east of Sulawesi. Unfortunately the locality data for both new species came from exporters in Jakarta, who relied in turn on their suppliers in outlying areas who relied in turn on the actual hunters. Because it would be in none of these groups interests to divulge the information, the type localities were highly dubious. At the time of writing no eyewitness accounts of these animals in nature exist.

In 1999 and 2000 another two monitor species were described, both closely related to V. indicus. Varanus caeruliverens is distinguished by its turquoise colouration, high number of midbody scale rows and pink tongue. A specimen was collected at Patani on Halmahera in 1895, otherwise the animal is known only from live animal imports.

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Varanus zerambonensis
Varanus ceramobonenis, as its name implies, comes from the islands of Ceram and Ambon and the smaller Banda Islands, Obi and Buru. It too has a light coloured tongue, but a banded pattern across the back and without any turquoise colouration. The species is well represented in museum collections.

It has been presumed that these new species inhabit areas away from the mangrove and other saltwater areas inhabited by V. indicus, but at present virtually nothing is known about the ecology of any of these animals. There are certainly many more unknown monitor lizards in Indonesia (and elsewhere in Asia) that still await discovery. In 1999 Germany prepared a proposal to put Varanus melinus on CITES Appendix I. I was asked for my comments and said that in my opinion an urgent field investigation was warranted, because nobody knew anything about the animal, none of the claims about its distribution and ecology were based on first hand evidence and in some cases the claims were obviously incorrect. Just a few weeks later I was given the opportunity to spend six weeks in Sulawesi, and thought that a rapid assessment of some of the islands said to be inhabited by Varanus melinus would be a perfect way to spend the time. I wrote to the author of the German proposal, asking to see the document and for any information that might help the search, but was told that the document was secret and could not be shown to me. Undeterred I arrived in Indonesia in December 1999 to meet Frank Yuwono who had kindly agreed to assist my investigations. I was more than surprised to find that everybody in Indonesia had the secret proposal, downloaded from the official CITES internet site! I was not so surprised to read the proposal, which, as I had feared, contained no attributable evidence of the animal's range, status or ecology. Unfortunately more civil unrest meant that there were no flights into the area and the short amount of available time meant I had to cancel the project. A few months later the proposal was dropped at the CITES meeting. The animal is still available in the pet trade and captive breeding has been reported. An investigation into the status of this animal should remain a high priority. The work could be carried out by any visitor to Indonesia on holiday there for more than two weeks!

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Varanus melinus


I am grateful to Frank Yuwono for his help in Jakarta. I would also like to express my gratitude to Freddie Persson for inviting me to Sweden in January 2001 and to Stina Wolffsen, Tom Martensson, Manfred Dornhauser and the Bromella Whisky Club for making my stay so enjoyable.

References. . Bennett, D. 1995. A Little Book of Monitor Lizards. Viper Press, Glossop.216p.

Bohme,W. and T. Ziegler. 1997. Varanus melinus sp. N., ein neuer Waran aus der V. indicus - gruppe von den Molukken, Indonesien. Herpetofauna 19 (111):26-34.

Harvey,M.B. and D.G. Barker. 1998. A new species of blue-tailed monitor lizard (genus Varanus) from Halmahera Island, Indonesia. Herpetologica 54:34-44

Philipp, K. M., W. Bohme and T. Ziegler. 1999. The identity of Varanus indicus: Redefinition and description of a sibling species coexisting at the type locality. Spixiana 22 (3):273-287.

Ziegler,T , W. Bohme and K.M. Philipp. 1999.Varanus caerulivirens sp n., a new monitor lizard of the V.indicus group from Halmahera, Moluccas, Indonesia (Squamata: Sauria; Varanidae). Herpetozoa 12 (1/2):45-56.

 
 

 

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The Butaan Project
The Butaan Project - Background and History
butaan2.jpgThe butaan was first described to science in 1845 from a juvenile specimen collected by Hugh Cuming. It was labelled only "Philippines". It was named Varanus grayi.  No other specimens came to light for over 120 years. In the 1970s Walter Auffenberg found another specimen with a location in Luzon, established that its correct scientific name was Varanus olivaceus, and undertook a 22 month study of the species based in Bicol. His study revealed that butaan occupy a unique ecological niche and have a lifestyle quite unlike any other monitor lizard. Auffenberg used local hunters with dogs to catch the animals. Of 126 butaan caught during his study, 116 animals were killed.
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