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Here Be Dragons: Tiny Lizard Species Found in the Andes

Image: Enyalioides sophiarothschildae
Enyalioides sophiarothschildae is one of three new woodlizard species discovered in the Andes. This particular species was found in the upper basin of the Huallaga River in northern Peru. Pablo J. Venegas

Colorful, spiky and only a few inches long, three new lizard species discovered in the Andes may be the cutest dragon stand-ins on Earth.

Woodlizards are often described as miniature dragons because of their probing eyes, richly patterned skin and rows of spikelike scales. Until now, only 12 species of the genus Enyalioides were known, and five of those were discovered in just the past seven years.

Image: Enyalioides anisolepis
They're not exactly "Game of Thrones" dragons, but woodlizards have occasionally been compared to the mythical beasts because of their spiky scales and probing eyes. This newly discovered species, dubbed Enyalioides anisolepis, is only about 5 inches (13 centimeters) long. It lives in the cloud forests of northern Peru and southern Ecuador. Omar Torres-Carvajal

The three new species were found in the cloud forests of Peru and Ecuador, an international research team reported Monday in the journal ZooKeys. These high-altitude tropical forests are permanently shrouded in fog and mist, creating an otherworldly environment that abounds in biological diversity. [In Photos: Life Up in the Clouds]

The team, led by Omar Torres-Carvajal of the Museo de Zoología QCAZ in Ecuador, also ferreted out the five other woodlizard species recorded in recent years. "The diversity of these conspicuous reptiles has been underestimated," Torres-Carvajal said in a statement.

Woodlizards grow to be between 3 and 6 inches (7 to 15 centimeters) long, making them one of the largest lizards in the Amazon rainforest. The lizards' colors and patterns help them blend into the environment, the researchers said.

Each of the three new species differs from its relatives by body characteristics such as color, scale shape and size, as well as their mitochondrial DNA, the study reported. The new species were named E. sophiarothschildae, after Sophia Rothschild, a donor to Germany's BIOPAT program; E. anisolepis, which refers to the Greek term for "unequal scales"; and E. altotambo, after Alto Tambo, the Ecuadorean town where the bright green lizard was found.

— Becky Oskin, LiveScience

This is a condensed version of a report from LiveScience. Read the full report. Follow Becky Oskin on Twitter. Follow LiveScience on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.