“Extinct” Pinocchio Lizard Found in Ecuador


Scientists have spotted a lizard with a nose like Pinocchio in an Ecuadorian cloud forest. What’s more, the long-nosed reptile was thought extinct, having been seen only a few times in the past 15 years.

“It’s hard to describe the feelings of finding this lizard. Finding the Pinocchio anole was like discovering a secret, a deeply held secret. We conceived it for years to be a mythological creature,” Alejandro Arteaga, a photographer and one of the lizard’s spotters, said in a statement.

Not surprisingly, the defining feature of the Pinocchio lizard—properly named Anolis proboscis, or the horned anole—is the male’s long protrusion on the end of its nose. Far from being a sturdy, rigid structure, researchers have found that the horn is actually quite flexible.

Despite its peculiar appearance, the reptile wasn’t formally described by scientists until 1953. They managed to save only six specimens, all of which were male. It was spotted several times in the next few years, all near the town of Mindo, Ecuador, and then the species seemed to vanish.

“For 40 years, no one saw it. At that point, we thought the species had gone extinct,” said Jonathan Losos, an evolutionary biologist and herpetologist at Harvard University who has studied the animal.

Then, in 2005, a group of bird-watchers near Mindo spotted a strange-looking lizard crossing the road. One of them shared a picture when they got back home, and herpetologists realized that the Pinocchio lizard was still alive and well.

Several teams journeyed to this area of Ecuador to get a closer look. One team, led by Steve Poe, a researcher at the University of New Mexico and an expert at finding hard-to-spot lizards, found that the anoles were actually quite easy to find—if you knew where to look.

Because horned anoles sleep at the end of branches, turning a pale white color as they snooze, Poe’s team discovered that they were easily spotted at night with headlamps or flashlights. The researchers identified several females, none of which had a horn. What the anoles did during the day, however, remained a mystery.

Losos—also a member of the National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration—arrived in Ecuador in 2010 to solve this mystery and study the natural history of the Pinocchio lizard. Unable to find the lizard by searching its known hideouts, Losos did what any good detective would: He set up a stakeout.

His team found the pale lizards at night and simply followed them into the day. This sleuthing revealed why the anoles were very rarely spotted during the day.

For one, Pinocchio lizards are extremely well camouflaged and live high in the canopy. They also move very, almost ridiculously, slowly—hardly faster than a crawl.

The latest team to discover the lizard also made some new discoveries about where the Pinocchio lizard lives.

“We discovered this lizard occurs in habitats very different to what has been suggested in the literature. No one had ever found the lizard in deep cloud forest away from open areas. The other sightings were in [the] forest border,” Arteaga said in a statement.

“It’s nice that this group spotted these anoles again,” Losos said. “What we really need are people to just go out into nature and study these creatures for a few months. It’s not that hard to do.”

Scientists have discovered similar horned anoles in Brazil, but a closer analysis revealed that these two species had evolved their horns independently.

And as for what the nose is used for, no one knows. Losos once suspected the males might use the horns in swordfighting-like duels, but the horns are far too flimsy and flexible to be used in such a way.


Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

Meteorite has highest water concentration of any yet discovered from Mars


A team of scientists has established a whole new class of meteorites that seems to have come from Mars’ crust, based on a rare sample from 2.1 billion years ago.

The newly analyzed meteorite has more water than any other Martian meteorite that we know of, by a magnitude of more than 10, said Carl Agee, lead study author and director of the Institute of Meteoritics at the University of New Mexico. Agee and colleagues published their analysis of the meteorite in the journal Science Express.

“There are thousands and thousands of meteorites, and so far this is the only one like it,” Agee said.

This is a volcanic rock that was probably part of an eruption, and interacted with water to the extent that some water got incorporated into the structure of the minerals, Agee said. “That’s why we’re able to see it after a couple of billion years,” he said.

The precise source of the water in the meteorite is unknown. It could have come from a lake or stream, or ground water that a volcano intruded into, Agee said. Alternatively, the water could have come from frozen Martian tundra that melted when hot volcanic material moved through it.

“We do know that there was a significant amount [of water] available,” he said.

Agee and colleagues were able to extract water from the meteorite by putting it into a vacuum-sealed tube and heating it up. Using a mass spectrometer, they were able to determine that the gas released from the heated meteorite was water vapor.

“That vapor is true Martian water that is, sort of like, being awakened” after many years, he said. “We’re pulling it out of the rock.”

Agee’s meteorite is similar to the type of rocks that NASA spacecraft have found on the surface of Mars in terms of its chemical composition. This is the first meteorite that’s a good match to those rocks on Mars today.

The meteorite’s age also makes it unique, Agee said. It from 2.1 billion years ago, making it the second-oldest sample that we have. The oldest is the Alan Hills meteorite, discovered in Antarctica in 1984, which is 4.5 billion years old. All other samples have been much younger.

Right now, Mars is cold and dry, inhospitable for life, Agee said. But many scientists believe the environment used to be warm and wet and that somewhere in its history the planet lost its atmosphere and surface water. When and how that happened are big mysteries.

“This meteorite is a sample from that transitional period, perhaps,” Agee said. “Because of the water that’s present in it, it may be giving us a glimpse of what the surface conditions were like, as well.”

The rare Mars rocks came from Morocco. There are nomads in that country who make a living by scouring the Sahara Desert for the dark, black rocks that have fallen from space, Agee explains. They bring these meteorites into towns and sell them to a dealer. Then the dealer sells them internationally to collectors, museums and scientists.

When Agee realized how rare and important his first sample was, he wanted to know if there were more. The meteorite hunters have since recovered a few more pieces.

The biggest piece of this Martian meteorite fits into the palm of your hand and weighs 320 grams (about 11 ounces), Agee said. There are two samples in his lab and two more in Paris.

“It’s going to be real interesting to see if there are more that are recovered,” he said. “But I think that this particular type is going to be extraordinarily rare.”

Meteorite has highest water content of any from Mars, scientists say