The world's smallest lizard is found - and immediately put on endangered list

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The Independent Online

Scientists have discovered the world's smallest lizard. Measuring three-quarters of an inch from nose to tail, the reptile is so small it can curl up on a 5p piece, which no other bird, mammal or reptile can do.

Biologists found the jaragua sphaero, or dwarf gecko, on Beata Island, which is part of the Dominican Republic's Jaragua National Park in the Caribbean. They have declared it an endangered species.

Blair Hedges of Pennsylvania State University and Richard Thomas of the University of Puerto Rico discovered the species in a cave in a partially destroyed forest.

"Our discovery illustrates that we still don't know everything about the Earth's species, even in areas that are very close to the United States," Dr Hedges said.

"The island home of this tiny lizard is closer to Miami than Miami is to Puerto Rico and we did not even know the species existed, although the area has been studied by biologists for several hundred years," he said.

Islands are often rich in small animals because they lack the competitors that tend to cause larger species to evolve. For instance, the world's smallest hummingbird, less than two inches long, is found in Cuba, and the threadsnake, which is the width of a pencil lead, is found in the Antilles. "It is hard to say whether this lizard is as small as a lizard can get, but you would think it probably is approaching that limit because it is the smallest of all 23,000 known species of reptiles, birds and mammals," Dr Hedges said.

The scientists warned that the jaragua lizard, whose full name is Sphaerodactylus ariasae, is under threat from deforestation – it quickly dies when removed from the moist undergrowth where it lives.

"People are cutting down trees even within the national parks and, if they take the forest away, these lizards and other species will disappear," Dr Hedges said.

"In the Caribbean, forests that used to cover all the land now typically cover less than 5 per cent, and they are being cut down at an increasing rate, manly for subsistence farming and fuel," he said. "Although there are laws against cutting down trees in the national parks, the enforcement of the laws is not enough to protect the forests."