A distinctly colored species of monitor lizard, a close relative of the Komodo dragon, has been discovered in Indonesia.
The lizard, whose scientific name is Varanus obor, is also called by its popular names, Torch monitor and Sago monitor. It’s called Torch monitor because of its bright orange head with a glossy black body. “Obor” means torch in Indonesian.
The newfound lizard is a close relative of the intimidating Komodo dragon, as well as the fruit-eating monitor lizard recently reported from the Philippines.
The Torch monitor can grow to nearly 4 feet (1.2 meters) in length and 3.5 pounds (1.5 kilograms) in weight, and thrives on a diet of small animals and carrion.
The Torch monitor exists only on the small island of Sanana in the western Moluccan islands of Indonesia. A unique aspect of this geographical region is the lack of mammalian predators, which may have given reptiles the space to evolve as the top terrestrial predators and scavengers.
Several million years ago, this island was situated near New Guinea, and it is possible that the lizard lives on as a relic from that period. It is the only black monitor in its lineage, and the only monitor species anywhere that has evolved red pigmentation.