A Nose-horned Dragon Lizard Was Rediscovered After 100 Years

Around 130 years ago, the Italian explorer Elio Modigliani brought a strange new lizard to the natural history museum in Genoa. He reported that he had collected it from the forests of Indonesia. Modigliani’s specimen was notable for having a horn that protrudes from its nose, which in 1933 gave it its official taxonomic description and name – Harpesaurus Modigliani. Since then, no accounts of anyone finding such a lizard were ever recorded.

The rediscovered lizard - Harpesaurus ModiglianiThe Wildlife Biologist Chairunas Adha Putra Found a Dead Lizard Resembling Modigliani’s Specimen in 2018

In June 2018, Chairunas Adha Putra found a dead lizard that had interesting morphological features and reminded him of Modigliani’s specimen. He found the lizard near a lake that fills the caldera of a supervolcano. After taking a closer look at the lizard’s nose-horn, scientists thought they had found Modigliani’s lizard. Apparently, it is the only nose-horned lizard species found in the region.

Putra soon returned to the caldera to see if he could find if there was a living population present there. After five days, he found another lizard lying on a low branch and probably sleeping. He took pictures, measured the size and shape of the lizard’s body parts, including the length of its head and nose-horn. Putra also observed the lizard’s behavior before releasing it that very same night.

Using Putra’s Data, Scientists Determined That the Specimen Was Actually Modigliani’s Nose-Horned Lizard

Chairunas Adha Putra and his colleagues monitoring wildlife.
After scientists compared the living and dead lizard with the one described by Modigliani, they concluded that all the specimens belonged to the same species. While the Genoa museum’s dead specimen has turned pale blue due to the preservation process, it’s known that the lizard is luminous green and its tree-dwelling behavior and camouflage are similar to those of the African mountain chameleons.

The reptile has been classified in the Agamidae family of lizards, commonly known as dragon lizards. These species like to live in small, hard-to-access areas, which makes them difficult to study. Much like Modigliani’s lizard, there are 30 species that have never been seen after they were initially described, as well as 19 other species that are known from a single specimen.