One of the most popular reptiles often taken home as pets is the Lizard also known as the gecko. These green or grey colored reptiles can range in size from the largest, the komodo monitor, to the tiny gecko. These fascinating four legged creatures are easily recognizable by their long tail, dry scaly skin and their clawed feet. It is therefore, quite exciting to note that this favored reptile, has the distinction of having the smallest reptile in its group.
Discovered on a small Island in the Dominican Republic, December 2001, the smallest reptile in the world measures a mere 0.6 inch or 16 millimeters. Not only is it the smallest lizard, it is also the smallest of the world's 23,000 species of birds, reptiles and mammals. The discovery was made by Penn State University biologist Blair Hedges and University of Puerto Rico biologist, Richard Thomas. It is reported that the Biologists specifically went to the Island to find new and unusual species. As a team, they have discovered over fifty new species, both amphibian and reptiles, in the Caribbean.
The world's smallest reptile known as Jaragua Sphaero, or dwarf gecko lives on the Beata Island and in adjoining areas of the Dominican Republic's national park. Biologists Hedges and Thomas found small groups of these lizards in a partially destroyed forest on the Beata Island. They were living in a sink hole and a cave. It must have been a classic sight to behold; the two biologists on their hands and knees sifting through dead leaves and gazing intently at the ground, poised to nab the unsuspecting creatures. Lizards are tricky to catch even at bigger sizes so seeing and catching these tiny geckos must have been quite a challenge.
This dwarf gecko is called Sphaerodactylus ariasae in honor of herpetologist Yvonne Arias,who is a vocal advocate of conservation efforts in the Dominican Republic. Pictures of the newly discovered gecko show it curled up on a dime, which clearly emphasizes its tiny size. This discovery is just one of many tiny lizards that have been uncovered so far. The Sphaerodactylus parthenopion, is another miniature lizard discovered in the British Virgin Islands in 1965 and some claim that it shares the smallest reptile title with the Sphaerodactylus ariasae.
The fact that this unusual discovery was made in a partially destroyed forest, is of concern. What happens to our animals, reptiles and birds when forests are destroyed? The Jaragua Sphaero, needs a moist environment to survive, without it they will quickly dry up and die. As their habitat continues to decline, the danger to their survival is increased. Forests in the Caribbean are quickly disappearing and now cover only about five percent of the land. The forests are rapidly being sacrificed for fuel and farming.
The discovery of the world's smallest reptile on a tiny Island in the Caribbean, indicates to us that there are many more discoveries to be made. Many of the smallest and largest species of animals are discovered in the Caribbean. The knowledge that the Caribbean holds a rich collection of extraordinary creatures is tempered by the concern that time may be running out as a result of the destruction and degradation of the habitat of yet to be discovered creatures.