The Rare Pinocchio Anole



Ecuadorian Team Finds And Photographs The Holy Grail of Anoles - The Pinocchio Lizard!

For image/press use of these photos please contact Jeff Cremer and Phil Torres at: therevscience@gmail.com

Note: Destination Ecuador is now offering travelers a special tour to go with one of the few people to ever see the lizard and find and photograph the incredible and rare animal. Join one of the top biologists and photographers in Ecuador to search for this unique creature and the other wonders that Mindo has to offer: Pinocchio Lizard Expedition

Biodiversity in the cloud forests of South America are renowned for producing a seemingly constant parade of beautiful, bizarre creatures. One such tropical oddity is the Pinocchio Lizard, Anolis proboscis, which was once presumed extinct and recently spotted by a team of biologists in Ecuador for only the third time in 15 years.

After three years of searching for this oddity, a group of photographers and researchers from Tropical Herping.com, Paolo Escobar, Lucas Bustamante, Diana Troya and Alejandro Arteaga were finally able to document and photograph this lizard in January of this year.

Known as the Ecuadorian Horned Anole, this bizarre creature earns its title because of a rhinoceros like protuberance that grows out of its snout.

As you might guess, its common name was coined for its resemblance to a particular wooden puppet when he wasn’t being honest.

First discovered in 1953, this unique animal was only seen on a handful of occasions for the following 15 years and was thought to have gone extinct until being rediscovered in 2005 by a group of birdwatchers that noticed one crossing a road. Another expedition summer of 2010 led by Jonathan Losos, a herpetologist from Harvard leading a group of herpetologists from Belgium, Ecuador, and the United States also found the anole.

The Pinocchio Lizard goes largely unseen due to its cryptic camouflage that helps it blend into the dense vegetation of the cloud forest. The team got around this by looking for the lizards at night instead of during the day because diurnal anoles are apparently much easier to find after dark (who would have thought?).

While Ecuadorian Horned Anoles and other day anoles hide in plain sight during the day, they turn a pale, easy to spot whitish color when lit up with a headlamp at night!

“We wanted to find it because it is a fantastic and mysterious creature that has remained unknown for almost all human beings for decades. Also, we needed pictures of the species for a book about the Amphibians and Reptiles of the Mindo region. It was the only lizard we were missing.” says Alejandro Arteaga.

The lizard was spotted in the cloudforest of Mindo, at nearly 1530 m. This area is located in northwestern Ecuador, 2-hour drive from Quito and is a popular destination for vacations in Ecuador.

Its hard to describe the feelings of finding this lizard. Finding the Pinnochio Anole was like discovering a secret, a deeply held secret. We conceived it for years to be a mythological creature. Therefore, when Paolo screamed that he had found the lizard, our hearts stopped.” said Arteaga. In recalling the night of the re-discovery, Arteaga also added: “Our team was walking along a cold-water stream in deep clouforest during a chilly night. Frog choruses were constant an enchanting, and the rain made our task to walk along the tangled vegetation surrounding the stream very difficult. It was well over midnight when one of the members of our team, Paolo Escobar, saw the lizard, just sleeping, covered in dew, about two meters above the water.”

"Examples like this are one of the many reasons I've loved working on conservation projects in Ecuador." says Phil Torres who works with Destination Ecuador in Mindo on promoting unique conservation projects. "There is a lot of excitement in these discoveries, and each region can offer something unique, from Pinocchio lizards to new species of glass frogs."

The team also found out a few things during the discovery: “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 forest border.

“Besides learning this we learned that a highly unlikely but not completely impossible event (like finding the rarest lizard in Ecuador), becomes likely if enough time passes. In this case, three years passed.” said Arteaga.

So why does the anole have the elongated nose? According to Jonathan Losos, the horn is also quite flexible and “was seen bending when in contact with leaves and other soft objects”. Those observations quickly discounted the idea that males used their elongated snout to battle with each other for territory and/or mating reasons.

However, the fact that the “horn” is flexible and can be moved up or down by the lizard turns out to be quite interesting since the lizard isn’t expected to have muscles that could move it! Losos mentions that “hydrostatic pressure might be used to change the horn’s shape, but at this point, we just don’t know”.

It could be that hydrostatic pressure is used to change the horn’s shape, like with some other "elongated appendages" that are found in nature, but at this point, we don’t know.