La Palma giant lizard (Gallotia auaritae)

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassReptilia
OrderSquamata
FamilyLacertidae
GenusGallotia (1)
SizeSnout-vent length: up to 44 cm (2)

The La Palma giant lizard is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The La Palma giant lizard (Gallotia auaritae) belongs to the genus Gallotia, a distinctive group of lizards which occurs only on the Canary Islands (3). Although thought to be extinct, a possible sighting of this species in 2007 suggests that a remnant population of the La Palma giant lizard might still exist (1).

From the structure of its skeleton, the La Palma giant lizard is known to be a large, robust lizard with well developed, muscular legs (2). Male giant lizards are generally larger than females, with larger, sturdier heads (4). Although recent sighting of this species may be unconfirmed (5), it is described as being dark-brown in colour (2).

The La Palma giant lizard is endemic to the island of La Palma, in the Canary Islands. Its historic range is believed to extend from sea level, up to elevations of 800 metres (1).

While there is little information on the habitat preference of the La Palma giant lizard, it is believed to have previously inhabited the littoral zone throughout La Palma (1). It is thought to be absent from areas of pine and laurel (2).

An extremely rare and possibly extinct species, there is very little information on the biology of the La Palma giant lizard. The structure of its teeth suggests that this species is mainly herbivorous, and therefore feeds primarily on plant matter (2) (4). As with other members of the genus Gallotia, the La Palma giant lizard is thought to be a slow-growing reptile (2).

The La Palma giant lizard is believed to be an egg laying species (1).

The decline in the La Palma giant lizard population is believed to be mainly due to the arrival of humans to the Canary Islands (1) (2). As well as using this species as a source of food, humans also introduced other predators of the La Palma giant lizard, including cats and dogs (1) (2).

Loss of habitat due to land being converted for agriculture and competition with domestic stock have further threatened the survival of the La Palma giant lizard (1) (2).

The La Palma giant lizard is believed to be potentially extinct, with a sighting of this species in 2007 remaining unconfirmed (5) (6). If this species does still survive, the remaining population is likely to be extremely small, totalling less than 50 mature individuals. It is not known if this species occurs in any protected areas (1).

All giant lizards in the Canary Islands were believed to be extinct until the rediscovery of a number of species in the 20th Century (4). Urgent research is needed to establish whether a population of the La Palma giant lizard still exists, in which case recommended conservation measures include the establishing of strictly protected areas and preventing any future collection of this species for non-conservation purposes (1).

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  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Mateo, J.A. (2009) Lagarto gigante de La Palma - Gallotia auaritae. In: Enciclopedia Virtual de los Vertebrados Españoles. Carrascal, L.M. and Salvador, A. (Eds.) Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Madrid. Available at:
    http://www.vertebradosibericos.org/reptiles/pdf/galaua.pdf
  3. Arnold, E.N. (2002) A Field Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Britain and Europe. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., London.
  4. Afonso, O.M. and Mateo, J.A. (2003) Los lagartos gigantes canarios: conservación creativa de poblaciones mínimas. In: Jiménez, I. and Delibes, M. (Eds) Al Borde de la Extinción: Integrando Ciencia, Política y Sociedad en la Recuperación de Especies Amenazadas. Evren, Valencia. Available at:
    http://www.sehumed.es/banco/archivos/bordeextincion.pdf
  5. Martin, A. (2009) The Loch Ness monster and La Palma giant lizard Gallotia auaritae: are they really extant? Oryx, 43(1): 17.
  6. Cox, N., Chanson, J. and Stuart, S. (2006) The Status and Distribution of Reptiles and Amphibians of the Mediterranean Basin. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. Available at:
    http://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/status_reptiles_amphibains_en.pdf