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Scientists discover 24 new lizard species in Caribbean

Two dozen new species of skink, a type of lizard, have been discovered in the Caribbean. But many of them are imperiled by the mongoose, which was introduced to the islands in the 19th century. 

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One of the newly identified skinks from the Caribbean, called an the Anguilla Bank skink.

Karl Questel

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A suite of lizards called skinks have just crawled into the science books, with researchers discovering 24 new species of the reptiles from the Caribbean islands.

Many of the skink species were identified from museum specimens, and now, the researchers say half of the newbies may be extinct or close to extinction, with the others threatened with extinction, said lead study researcher Blair Hedges, a professor of biology at Penn State University.

The researchers examined the specimens using DNA and the appearances of the animals, including the number and shape of their scales, to identify them. Of the 39 species they identified from the Caribbean, six were already known and nine had been named long ago but not considered valid until now.

New World skinks, like those identified, arrived in the Americas about 18 million years ago from Africa, possibly by floating on mats of vegetation. Their claim to fame comes from their ability to produce a humanlike placenta, the organ that connects growing offspring to essential nutrients from the mama.

"While there are other lizards that give live birth, only a fraction of the lizards known as skinks make a placenta and gestate offspring for up to one year," Hedges said in a statement.

As pregnancy can slow an animal down, this lengthy gestational period may have given skinks' predators a competitive edge; they think the small Indian mongoose (Urva auropunctata) — an invasive species introduced by farmers in the 19th century to control rats in sugarcane fields — is responsible for the loss of many skink species. [Infographic: How Long Are Animals Pregnant?]

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