A tiny earless dragon which experts thought was extinct has been spotted for the first time in over 50 years.
The Victorian grassland earless dragon – native to east Australian grasslands – was last spotted in the wild in 1969.
Once common in the area, its numbers plummeted due to habitat loss and predators like foxes and feral cats.
Conservationists feared for the animal’s survival and previously made “considerable but unsuccessful efforts” to locate the species.
Now, they’ve discovered a small population – but the exact rediscovery location is being kept a secret to protect the surviving animals.
“This is an amazing discovery and offers an opportunity for us to recover a species evvel thought lost to our state and the world,” said Victorian environment minister Ingrid Stitt.
“With the help of our partners, we will continue to fight the extinction of this critically endangered species – ensuring future generations can see and learn about this incredibly unique lizard.”
What is the Victorian grassland earless dragon?
Australia has more than 70 different dragon species.
Resembling tiny versions of their mythological counterparts, dragons are a type of iguanian lizard native to Africa, Asia, and Australia. A few species are also indigenous to Southern Europe.
The Victorian grassland earless dragon lacks an external ear opening – hence the name – and measures just 15cm from head to tail when fully grown.
Now that conservationists have rediscovered the lizard, they’re keen not to lose it again.
The Australian state and federal governments are planning to spend AUD$188,000 (€113,000) on training sniffer dogs to locate more dragon populations.
Zoos Victoria is also establishing a dedicated breeding program to ensure the lizard’s survival in the future.
The animal is listed as critically endangered under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act and the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
What other ‘extinct’ species have been rediscovered?
The earless dragon is not the first species to ‘come back from the dead’.
Dozens of species have been rediscovered after decades without a sighting.
In 2019, scientists were overjoyed to find a rare species of giant tortoise last spotted in 1906.
This Galápagos Island tortoise was confirmed to be a chelonoidis phantasticus – better known as the ‘fantastic giant tortoise’ – in 2022.
Researchers also rediscovered the Wallace’s Giant Bee for the first time in 40 years in 2019. At an incredible 4.5cm long, it is the largest bee in the world.
In the same year, scientists rediscovered the adorable Silver-backed Chevrotain, also known as the deer mouse.