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Peru: Researchers discover two new species of lizard

Rebecca Staudenmaier
May 29, 2022

One of the newly-discovered lizards, which was named after Optimus Prime from the "Transformers" franchise, was found living in the sanctuary around Machu Picchu.

A handout image from Peru's Conservation Authority depicts a new type of lizard known as the Proctoporus katerynae
The shiny, black-scaled lizards were found in Peru's Machu Picchu and a preserve in CuzcoImage: Sernanp /dpa/picture alliance

Officials announced the discovery — and the special names — of two, new lizard species, Peru's Conservation Authority in a statement posted over the weekend.

Tucked away in the high altitudes of the Peruvian Andes, the new species are shedding light on the plight of local wildlife threatened by rapid changes due to global warming.

Why do they have such unique names?

One of the new species was discovered in the wildlife sanctuary of Machu Picchu — where the historic ruins of an ancient Incan city are located.

Scientists dubbed the new species Proctoporus optimus, named after the leading alien robot character Optimus Prime from the "Transformers" film franchise.

The name is a nod to the "Transformer" movies, which were party filmed in Machu Picchu, the conservation authority said.

Another new species was also uncovered in the Cuzco region of Peru, where it was found in the protected Machiguenga Communal Reserve.

Researchers gave this new species the name of Proctoporus katerynae, in honor of biologist Kateryn Pino Bolanos who has done extensive research in the Peruvian Andes.

The new species were confirmed with the help of genetic sequencing. Researchers at Peru's Museum of Biodiversity, the University of Texas, and the Museum of Natural History at the National University of Saint Anthony the Abbot in Cuzco.

What we know about the lizards?

The two lizards have shiny, dark scales — one of which has a red-tinted underbelly.

They belong to a type of medium-sized lizard that ranges in length between 2.7 centimeters to 7.8 centimeters (1.1 inches to 3.1 inches) depending on the species.

Both species, discovered living at high-elevations, are considered endangered — and under a growing threat due to climate change.

According to Peru's Conservation Authority, the rising temperature in the lowlands of the mountains is forcing the species to migrate higher up into the mountains in search of the optimal temperature.

This causes the lizard's distribution area to grow—an effect referred to as the "escalator to extinction," because as they are forced to move higher and higher up the mountain to find cooler temperatures, they will eventually have no where else to go.

Edited by: Jenipher Camino Gonzalez