Was this spectacular new species of lizard first ‘illustrated’ in Aboriginal rock art?
A spectacular new species of dragon lizard, Ctenophorus mirrityana, has been described from western New South Wales by PhD student Claire McLean (University of Melbourne) and colleagues. The male of the species has orange and black colouration on its neck and flanks and was previously thought to be an outlying population of another species, C. decresii.
Genetic differences between the populations led the scientists to look for physical differences. They examined and measured over 100 specimens from museum collections to discover the new species, which they described in Records of the Australian Museum.
The authors named the new species mirrityana, which means ‘out in the sunlight’ in the local Aboriginal language, referring to the male lizard’s courtship displays.
Records editor Shane McEvey said that the species was discovered in an area of the State’s far west noted for its Aboriginal rock art and engravings depicting lizards. ‘The Museum published a paper about the rock art, by anthropologists Fred McCarthy and Neil McIntosh, in 1962’, Shane said.
‘So it’s taken more than 200 years for us to find a lizard that may well have been first illustrated by the Aboriginal people of Mootwingee!’
First published in Explore 36(1) March 2014.
CA McLean, A Moussalli, S Sass and D Stuart-Fox, 2013. Taxonomic assessment of the Ctenophorus decresii complex (Reptilia: Agamidae) reveals a new species of dragon lizard from Western New South Wales. Records of the Australian Museum 65(3): 51–63.
FD McCarthy & NWG Macintosh, 1962. The archaeology of Mootwingee, Western New South Wales.Records of the Australian Museum 25 (13): 249–98.