The monitor lizard Varanus douarrha was once lost to history, but has recently been rediscovered. Valter Weijola

Scientists have rediscovered a long-lost lizard species that survived the human invasion of its skinny island in the South Pacific Ocean.

The experts say their research has “resurrected” this type of monitor lizard, called Varanus douarrha, using a genetic analysis and a comparison of its physical features to others like it. It is the only species from its family of lizards on Papua New Guinea’s New Ireland province, a study in the Australian Journal of Zoology found, and represents an important member of the area’s native creatures.

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They use the word “resurrected” because a French naturalist discovered the lizard in the early 1800s. But a ship carrying a specimen back to France wrecked on the southwestern tip of South Africa and the animal was lost, Finland’s University of Turku said.

With this new research, it has finally been found. The analysis shows the lizard is a separate species, and the very one experts thought was lost to history.

Monitor lizard. Valter Weijola

“The discovery is particularly interesting as most of the endemic species to New Ireland disappeared thousands of years ago as humans colonized the island,” the university said. This monitor lizard “is the only large-growing animal endemic to the island that has survived until modern times. … In that way it can be considered a relic of the historically richer fauna that inhabited the Pacific islands.”

The lizard can grow to more than 4 feet.

Monitor lizards are known for their long heads, tails and necks, and have forked tongues like snakes. There are dozens of different kinds of the lizard around the world, including in Asia, Africa and Australia.

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However, “most monitor lizards occur in Australia and on the Pacific islands where there are few mammalian predators,” the University of Turku said.

In addition to rediscovering Varanus douarrha, the researchers also note in their study their genetic analysis shows another monitor lizard, Varanus indicus, is “a relatively recent immigrant to the Bismarck Islands,” the archipelago to the northeast of New Guinea where New Ireland is located. That’s compared to the longer lineages of Varanus douarrha, V. finschi and V. semotus, the other monitor lizards in this local family.

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