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Scientific Classification
Varanus bitatawa

Kingdom

Animalia

Phylum

Chordata

Class

Reptilia

Order

Squamata

Superfamily

Varanoidea

Family

Varanidae

Genus

Varanus

Species

V. bitatawa

The Bitatawa, Butikaw, Lupi or Northern Sierra Madre forest monitor (Varanus bitatawa) is a large, arboreal, frugivorous lizard of the genus Varanus. The lizard's known range is currently limited to the Sierra Madre Forest, in the northeastern coast of the island of Luzon, Philippines.

The forest monitor lizard can grow to more than 2 m (6.6 ft) in length, but weighs only about 10 kg (22 lb). It is brightly colored with stripes of gold flecks. Its scaly body and legs are a blue-black, mottled color, with pale yellow-green dots, and its tail is marked in alternating segments of black and green.

V. bitatawa is closely related to the Komodo dragon of Indonesia. It was confirmed as a new species in April 2010 by biologists from the University of Kansas. DNA analysis has revealed a deep genetic divergence between this species and its closest relative, butaan (Varanus olivaceus), which is also a fruit-eater, but lives on the southern end of Luzon, rather than the northern end where the forest monitor lizard lives.

The researchers suspect the 22 pound (10 kilogram) lizard species escaped scientific detection until now because there've been few reptile surveys of the mountain forests where V. bitatawa lives.

Varanus Bitatawa

These fruit-eating lizards are also "incredibly secretive," said study team member and biologist Daniel Bennett of Mampam Conservation.

"You could stay in that forest for years and have absolutely no idea that they are there," Bennett said. "They spend all their time high up in trees, more than 20 meters [66 feet] above the ground." Similar lizard species spend less than 20 minutes on the ground per week, he added.

But while scientists weren't aware of the lizard, its existence comes as no surprise to Aeta and Ilongot indigenous people who hunt the creature for its meat.

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