Thursday 17 May 2012

News species of Girdled Lizard from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Girdled Lizards (Cordylus) are small-to-medium-sized, rock-dwelling lizards widespread across Eastern, Southern and parts of Central Africa. They get their name from the enlarged spiny scales of their bodies and tails, which resembles a girdle or corset. This armor is backed up by a layer of osteoderms (boney plates) beneath the skin, and a tendency to hide in rock crevices. Girdled Lizards give birth to live young. There are about twenty species, many of which are threatened by habitat fragmentation.

In a paper published in the African Journal of Herpetology on 23 April 2012, a team of scientist led by Eli Greenbaum of the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Texas at El Paso, describe a new species of Girdled Lizard from the Marungu Plateau in Katanga Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The new species, named Cordylus marunguensis (the Marungu Girdled Lizard) was identified from an analysis of DNA from a large number of specimens assigned to the species C. tropidosternum (the Tropical Girdled Lizard) from museum and university collections in the United States and Belgium, as well as new specimens collected from the Marungu Plateau, and then shown to be morphologically distinct from other members of the genus.

Map showing the distribution of C. tropidosternum and closely related species, including the newly discovered C. marunguensis. Greenbaum et al (2012).

Cordylus marunguensis is a greyish-brown Lizard approximately 10 cm in length. It has a large snout compared to other members of the same genus, and a flattened head and body. It has oblong, keeled scales, a yellowish ring about its neck and tan flecks on its flanks.

C. marunguensis. Dorsal view (top) and ventral view (bottom). Greenbaum et al (2012).

All the specimens of Cordylus marunguensis were collected from under rock in grassland on the Marungu Plateau. This area is now heavily disturbed by agriculture and cattle-grazing, but as recently the plateau, was described as being sparsely populated, with patches of dense forest that supported a population of Chimpanzees; today both the forests and the Chimpanzees have gone, and a rising human population is likely to impact other species.

Photograph of the area of the Marungu Plateau where C. marunguensis was collected. Greenbaum et al(2012).

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