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Spiky Creatures Lurking Inside Temple at Night Discovered as New Species in Muang Fuang, Laos

Source: Miami Herald

Shrouded in darkness, a trio of spiky creatures lurked inside a temple in Laos. The animals went undisturbed until scientists spotted them — and discovered a new species.

Researchers were doing a survey of amphibians and reptiles in Vientiane province when they entered the Sinxay Temple at night, according to a study published May 23 in the journal ZooKeys.

Inside the temple, the researcher found three spiky lizards sitting on the ground. They collected the specimens and, after taking a closer look, realized they had discovered a new species of leaf-toed gecko.

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The new species was named Dixonius muangfuangensis or the Muangfuang leaf-toed gecko after the area where it was discovered, the study said. The lizard is about 3.7 inches long and has rows of bumpy spikes running down its back. Photos show a male Muangfuang leaf-toed gecko with dark gray coloring and small black blotches across its back. The female gecko has a lighter brown-tan coloring, photos show.

Researchers only found the animal in the Muangfuang district of Vientiane province. The area near the temple is surrounded by “lowland karst forest,” a type of forest punctuated by limestone rock formations, the study said. The new species was identified as morphologically distinct based on its color pattern and body proportions, the study said.

Genetic analysis also confirmed the Muangfuang leaf-toed gecko’s distinctiveness, the study said. DNA analysis found the new species had between 3.1% and about 18.2% genetic variation from other known species. The research team included Vinh Quang Luu, Thuong Huyen Nguyen, Minh Duc Le, Jesse L. Grismer, Hong Bich Ha, Saly Sitthivong, Tuoi Thi Hoang and L. Lee Grismer. During their research, they also discovered a new species in Vietnam, the study said.