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Meet Jaragua´s galliwasp: New lizard discovered by Dominican partners

March 2, 2023

Seacology’s efforts to protect mangrove forests in the Dominican Republic can claim a lot of milestones: a dozen projects, our national initiative to engage the public about the importance of these ecosystems, educational events, a sports-and-conservation program that have reached thousands of kids, and more.

But it’s not every day we can say we were involved in the discovery of a new species.

Late last year, biologist Miguel Landestoy and his colleagues were observing reptiles around Oviedo Lagoon as part of a survey organized by Grupo Jaragua, our national project partner. The researchers were collecting data on the biodiversity of the mangrove area, to aid in the development of informational materials for a public outreach campaign (known locally as Campaña ManglarES).

While exploring Cayo Iguana—a small cay in the lagoon named for its abundant population of rhinoceros iguanas—something new caught their attention. A  medium-sized brown lizard was scurrying among the rocks, fallen leaves, and twisting mangrove roots. A less knowledgeable observer might have mistaken it for one of its close cousins like the common Hispaniolan galliwasp (one of a group of ground lizards locally known as lucias). But Landestoy and his colleagues noticed its larger ear openings and webbed toes, and realized they might be looking at something new.

Indeed they were. Guarocuyus jaraguanus is not only a new species to science, but the only known member of a new genus as well.The species is now described in scientific journals, and its discovery was noted by local media and herpetologists around the world. The name of the new genus is a reference to Guarocuya — believed to be the indigenous name of Enriquillo, who led a Taíno uprising against Spanish colonists in the 16th century.

So far, the lizard has only been recorded in two small areas, both in Oviedo Lagoon. This shows the importance of protecting local ecosystems like this one. Many species live not just on a single island, but only in a small area of one. If their little patch of habitat disappears, the species will go extinct.

Fortunately for this lucia, Oviedo Lagoon is a high priority for conservationists. One of the largest mangrove areas in the country, it is part of Jaragua National Park and has been recognized as a wetland of international importance. Seacology has worked to promote sustainable tourism and fight poaching in the lagoon since 2017.

“Not only is this new lizard cute, its discovery also highlights the biological wonders of mangrove ecosystems, and how much there is still to learn about life there,” said Karen Peterson, who manages Seacology’s role in the project. “Grupo Jaragua’s work to raise awareness about mangroves is so important on so many levels — including finding a species not known to science!”

Grupo Jaragua President Yolanda León concurs. “It has been so exciting to find a new lifeform—a brand new lizard genus nonetheless—in our beloved Laguna de Oviedo,” she said. “It just highlights how critical preserving these incredibly rich habitats is.”


Guarocuyus jaraguanus is mostly nocturnal and has a semiprehensile tail, allowing it to grab objects.

Oviedo Lagoon's dense mangroves are home to countless species, including the newly discovered lizard.