“Extinct” Pinocchio Lizard Found in Ecuador

It’s no lie—scientists have spotted a lizard with a nose like Pinocchio in an Ecuadorian cloud forest. What’s more, the long-nosed reptile was thought extinct, having been seen only a few times in the past 15 years.

“It’s hard to describe the feelings of finding this lizard. Finding the Pinocchio anole was like discovering a secret, a deeply held secret. We conceived it for years to be a mythological creature,” Alejandro Arteaga, a photographer and one of the lizard’s spotters, said in a statement.

The lizard’s superschnoz on display. Photograph by Alejandro Arteaga, tropicalherping.com

Not surprisingly, the defining feature of the Pinocchio lizard—properly named Anolis proboscis, or the horned anole—is the male’s long protrusion on the end of its nose. Far from being a sturdy, rigid structure, researchers have found that the horn is actually quite flexible. (See a picture of a Pinocchio frog found in Indonesia.)

Despite its peculiar appearance, the reptile wasn’t formally described by scientists until 1953. They managed to save only six specimens, all of which were male. It was spotted several times in the next few years, all near the town of Mindo, Ecuador (map), and then the species seemed to vanish.

Watch a video of the Pinocchio lizard.

“For 40 years, no one saw it. At that point, we thought the species had gone extinct,” said Jonathan Losos, an evolutionary biologist and herpetologist at Harvard University who has studied the animal.

Why Did the Lizard Cross the Road?

Then, in 2005, a group of bird-watchers near Mindo spotted a strange-looking lizard crossing the road. One of them shared a picture when they got back home, and herpetologists realized that the Pinocchio lizard was still alive and well. (Also see Photos: Bubble-nest Frog, Other ‘Extinct’ Species Found.”)

pinocchio lizard picture
Only the males have such long noses. Photograph by Alejandro Arteaga, tropicalherping.com

Several teams journeyed to this area of Ecuador to get a closer look. One team, led by Steve Poe, a researcher at the University of New Mexico and an expert at finding hard-to-spot lizards, found that the anoles were actually quite easy to find—if you knew where to look.

Because horned anoles sleep at the end of branches, turning a pale white color as they snooze, Poe’s team discovered that they were easily spotted at night with headlamps or flashlights. The researchers identified several females, none of which had a horn. What the anoles did during the day, however, remained a mystery.

Losos—also a member of the National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration—arrived in Ecuador in 2010 to solve this mystery and study the natural history of the Pinocchio lizard. Unable to find the lizard by searching its known hideouts, Losos did what any good detective would: He set up a stakeout.

His team found the pale lizards at night and simply followed them into the day. This sleuthing revealed why the anoles were very rarely spotted during the day.

Slow, Elusive Lizard

For one, Pinocchio lizards are extremely well camouflaged and live high in the canopy. They also move very, almost ridiculously, slowly—hardly faster than a crawl.

pinocchio lizard picture
Photograph by Lucas Bustamante, tropicalherping.com

The latest team to discover the lizard also made some new discoveries about where the Pinocchio lizard lives.

“We discovered this lizard occurs in habitats very different to what has been suggested in the literature. No one had ever found the lizard in deep cloud forest away from open areas. The other sightings were in [the] forest border,” Arteaga said in a statement. (Also see “Pictures: 24 New Caribbean Lizards Found.”)

“It’s nice that this group spotted these anoles again,” Losos said. “What we really need are people to just go out into nature and study these creatures for a few months. It’s not that hard to do.”

Scientists have discovered similar horned anoles in Brazil, but a closer analysis revealed that these two species had evolved their horns independently.

And as for what the nose is used for, no one knows. Losos once suspected the males might use the horns in swordfighting-like duels, but the horns are far too flimsy and flexible to be used in such a way.

What do you think the horn is used for? Share your ideas below!

Follow Carrie Arnold on Twitter and Google+.

Carrie is a freelance science writer living in Virginia. When she's not writing about cool critters, she's spending time outside, drinking coffee, or knitting. You can visit her website at http://www.carriearnold.com
  • Carlos Chungata

    Just to clarify, the town of Mindo isn’t in the Amazon rainforest but rather in northwestern Andes rainforest. Cheers

  • Jaime Culebras

    Hi, I’m a member of Tropical Herping. I tell you this species of lizard (Anolis proboscis) was finding in a Tropical Cloud Forest, in Mindo, West of Ecuador (arround 1500 meters). No in Amazon!!

  • Kenneth Weaver

    Mindo is located on the west slope of the Andes not in the Amazon. The title of this article needs revising.

  • Karyl C

    The “horn” may simply be a result of epigamic selection; females just dig them! As with the showy and cumbersome feathers of male peacocks, female choice is driving this flamboyant feature that makes the ‘lil lizard irresistible.

  • Jose Ibañez Jr.

    I suspect that these protrusions on the pinocchio lizard serves as a mating signal to females during courting much like the Draco lizards use dewlaps or skin extension on their throat to signal females during courting.

  • Carrie Arnold

    Thanks for those corrections–I updated the post.


  • Brian Neufeldt

    In every photo, the male is holding his horn in the air. Perhaps it is used as a phallic symbol.

  • D. Melton

    Perhaps camouflage to more resemble foliage. It also resembles the tail of the lizard…perhaps to fool predators.

  • Andrew E

    I think Karyl C nailed it… Most times in nature, as we see with the birds of paradise, a vestigial appendage is simply years and years of females preferring a certain trait in they manz.

  • Hunter Larsen

    Maybe the horn is used for catching food?

  • Ashley Smith

    I know this sounds stupid, but I thought the title was on about the extinct lizard being sold on Amazon on the internet for people to buy xD Maybe we should look for more extinct species and buy through Amazon!

  • pirah Uqaili

    It might use its nose for smelling prey

  • Alexander

    I think that its used as a tool for feeding, in like eating insects or grubs

  • almarea

    they need a better video with information…..seriously.

  • Mark Arjomandi

    Maybe its horn is used to attract females?

  • Tyler

    The nose looks almost like the caudal lure of a Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix).. Maybe it’s used to lure in prey – that would be an awesome method and location for it if my theory holds weight.

  • Sonia Sullivan

    Maybe it’s horn helps him find food.

  • JIm

    It’s used to signal a female that her date has arrived. If honked 3 times, it means she should hurry. One long honk means he’ll be plowing other pastures.

  • Leenoh

    It’s probably to be used as boosting himself or camouflage as a long thing branch when they need to hide from predators. And I think it is used as it wants to be shown bigger or more scary than as usual it was shown before.

  • Bill

    I have always liked Nat Geo, even as a kid. My Dad used to get the magazine and looking at the big bright magazine with colorful pictures always kept my attention. I am usually on here during the day at work. I read the articles while doing my work in my cube. I usually get very jealous at the folks who are out there exploring the world we live in and of course, taking fantastic photographs. Please keep up the great work you guys are doing!

  • chuck

    Nice proboscis

  • Jacob

    I have a feeling the nose is either used for courtship rituals or for intimidation (be it of other animals or of lizards of it’s kind)…..bear with me, I realize these are not the most intimidating creatures but when it comes down to it, every millimeter counts!

  • Leonardo V.

    Despite the surprise of the discovery, we still have a raindrop exploding on its head at the moment of the photo. No more comments… Doubly blessed photographer. Congratulations. 😉

  • Bruno

    maybe like a extrasensorial organ, or use ir for orientation, camouflage, or competition for females; the longest and colorful horn win the female, or intimidate

  • Jenny H

    Their magnificent noses possibly evolved to:
    impress the females, (they are impressive enough to us, another species);
    make their competitors think twice–“en garde!”;
    act as a pseudo branch or lure for unsuspecting insects—zip! (Maybe the proboscis emits an enticing aroma.)
    Could it be used for pollen or nectar harvesting?
    Perhaps they are paternal herders: “Go this way, son!”
    Or they’re just pointing towards heaven.
    Thanks for the beautiful photos!

  • Shelby

    They may be used to show off for females

  • Susan WIllis


  • Lucas

    Did you know extinct species that were rediscovered like the Pinocchio, are called Lazarus Taxon?

  • Seth

    Since we have not seen the males use these glorious probuscises, can we just assume that they use them to shoot lightning at each other?

  • Fioda

    Maybe the protrusion is used for competitions for females, or to find their food ,like Tarsipes spencerae.

  • John Henry

    maybe its for show off only for attracting the females(just like other lizards do)

  • Weber

    The horn might be used to attract the female. The horn was unique for the male.

  • Susan Perry

    Maybe it is for a lure/hunting. Here dragonflies and insects similar to them land on protruded structures such as stem tips, new growth on branches, car antenna etc. Perhaps they “sleep” at the end of the branches in hopes to catch one landing.

  • Angelica Lopez

    The article is kind of viral and has a lot of misleading information. How can people use the word “Rediscovering” just like that? What about the spotting on 2005? http://www.anoleannals.org/2013/10/11/the-rediscovery-of-anolis-proboscis-and-the-evolution-of-a-viral-internet-news-story/

  • Kyle Doyle

    It would seem to me that this lizards nose could serve one of two possible purposes. It seems plausible that the nose could act in a similar way to many other anoles tails, detaching when attacked, allowing the lizard to get away.

    However, the more plausible, second theory, is that the nose serves some purpose during matting ritual. This would seem more probable as the species exhibits sexual dimorphism, signaling that the feature is likely linked to mating. While sword-fighting is unlikely, it is equally possible that pinnochio lizard females, just like a guy with a big schnaz.

  • Jesse Sanchez

    It could quite possibly be to extract moisture out of the air. It doesn’t seem logical because the lizard lives in the rainforests, but there is a lizard that lives in the desert that ha glands that pulls moisture and water from all over his body to his mouth to help with hidration.
    Another idea could be that because amphibians are presumably cold blooded, the Pinocchio lizard could use it to help extract heat.

  • Charles P. Crawford

    Assumptions. The lizard’s proboscis doesn’t have to have any “purpose”. What if It’s just there and it doesn’t have anything to do with survival?

  • Dwight

    Pinocchio lizard really that’s lame why not unicorn lizard?

  • Charlie Vogt

    I was the one who rediscovered it. While leading a birdtour near Mindo a lizard ran into the road and stopped so I braked and got out to look and photograph it. Months later at Harvard’s Museuem of Comparative Zoology I visited Jose Rosado, curator of Herps who said its rare. We went to the collection and found the type specimen A. proboscis 1953, so 51 years it was lost. http://www.andeanbirding.com/html/research.html#art10

  • Thom McCann

    Another reason not to believe what anthropologists say.

  • levent atalay

    Hi. i’m a reptile breeder and just heard of this event. I was wondering if anyone is captive breeding them right now?,and who i have to talk to about this topic if i want to acquire a pair

  • teuku fadel mikraj

    i think that’s a new reptile species
    very wonderful lizard with a long nose

  • football head

    maybe the horn is used to attract females. or males. whatever the lizards are into.

  • karen m kalpin

    The proboscis cannot be for finding food, balance or any other ‘task’ that supports basic living else the females would also need them. Therefore, reason states it must be something to do with mating such as;….. maybe lets off some type of odour, chemical etc. to attract females, or the opposite – the proboscis is used by the males to detect signs that females want/or ready to mate? I know zero about the mating habits of lizards so just guessing! 🙂

  • adam

    Fantastic species, I hope to god these become available to start a captive breeding programme.

  • Matthew Newton

    maybe the horns are used to establish superiority say the an younger male with a small horn came across an older male with a big horn the older male then flails his horn. this action tells the younger male this is the older males territory and all the females there belong to him. so the younger and smaller horned male runs off. the horn might also be used attract a mate the bigger and brighter the horn the more interested the female will be in the male

  • ErnestoDelMundo

    The nose looks like the tail. This would confuse and surprise predators and make it easier to escape an attack by predators. Several other animals use this trick, including insects that have a fake pair of “eyes” on their tail to make their tail resemble their head.

  • sophie


  • georgr

    10 millions years this lizard was bigger than an anteater..and that is what he did with his long nosr..eat ants…lol

  • Zack Parsons

    It could be hollow which would explain why its not hard and that it could used it to make a low frequency sound used in mating and establishing its territory.

  • Korbyn

    There very interesting and uniqu. I wonder how many other species of reptiles are left to discover.

  • Korbyn

    I think that the lizard uses the horn to to warn off predators like a snake or bug with yellow on it. Just a guess.

  • Colby

    I think that the horn is used to attract a mate

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