"Extinct" Pinocchio Lizard Spotted in Ecuador

"Extinct" Pinocchio Lizard Spotted in Ecuador

By Simone M. Scully
Published: 10/11/2013

A male and female horned anole, otherwise known as the Pinocchio Lizard.

Photo by Santiago Ron via Flickr Creative Commons

Pinocchio is alive, after all.  At least, the lizard, named for the fictitious boy, is still around.  The Pinocchio lizard, which has a long, flexible protrusion at the tip of its nose, was thought to have gone extinct in recent years.  However, researchers from the ecotourism company Tropical Herping spotted the elusive creature in the cloud forests of northwest Ecuador, near the town of Mindo. 

In January, they found a male Pinocchio lizard on a branch over a stream.  After keeping it overnight to photograph, they set it free. 

The Pinocchio lizard walking.  Video by Tropical Herping via YouTube.

The Pinocchio lizard, also known as the horned anole, was first discovered in 1953, living in the forest canopy of Ecuador. At that time, scientists collected six specimens, all male. When females were later found, it was discovered that they don’t have the long nasal protuberance. Scientists still do not know what purpose the horn serves, since it is too flimsy to be used to fight other males. Recently, the lizard was believed to have become extinct because he has only been seen a few times over the last 15 years. In addition, all the sightings occurred at four locations in Ecuador and most along a single stretch of road. 

Turns out, the paucity of sightings may be due to the lizard’s excellent daytime camouflaging ability – a handy attribute for such a slow crawler.  In fact, they are so difficult to see for humans that scientists had to wait until dark to find them.  At night, sleeping at the end of branches, the lizard turns a pale, whitish color in the dark, finally making them easily identifiable by flashlight.  

Author Profile

Simone M. Scully

Simone M. Scully is a reporter at Audubon Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @ScullySimone

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine