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Mountain lizards found living at record height of 5,400 meters

In the Peruvian Andes, scientists have discovered a lizard that lives at an altitude of 5,400 meters, exposed to cold temperatures, strong ultraviolet radiation and low levels of oxygen. This lizard has established the title of world’s tallest living reptile.

This information was published by the researchers on February 15 in Herpetozoa.

In October 2020, zoologist José Cerdeña and his colleagues climbed the Peruvian volcano Chachani, at 6,057 meters above sea level. The team are looking for Liolaemus lizards, also known as the iguana, and found them when they climbed 5,000 meters.

Scientist José Cerdeña from Saint Augustine National University in Arequipa, Peru, said: “We have observed animals moving between the rocks. At first we thought they were mice ”.

Upon closer inspection, he and his team discovered that these animals were indeed lizards, identified as Liolaemus tacnae. This species is known to survive in high altitude areas in Peru. And at least before that, a population of lizards living near the Chachani volcano was discovered at an elevation of about 4,000 meters above sea level.

Survival in such extreme conditions is difficult for mammals. Records of these large living reptiles are rare. To date, the largest living reptile is the toad-headed agama lizard (Phrynocephalus erythrurus), which lives on the Tibetan plateau at an altitude of 5,300 meters. The Andean lizards broke the old 100-meter record.

The genus of lizard Liolaemus is particularly diverse, with over 270 species adapted to a wide variety of habitats across South America.

Mr Cerdeña said climate change could create conditions for Liolaemus lizards to live at record heights, as global warming has caused the lizard to gradually retreat to the peaks for cooler weather conditions. “It’s possible that this lizard has started to conquer this height recently,” he says.

The team’s next steps are to verify the identity of the lizard using physical and genetic analysis. Cerdeña said he also wanted to learn more about the physiology of the reptile so that he could uncover the secrets of its alpine way of life.

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