An Entomologist in Iraq Finds a Rare, Recently Described Monitor Lizard! - Observation of the Week, 6/28/20

Our Observation of the Week is the first Nesterov’s Desert Monitor posted to iNat, seen in Iraq by @soran4!

“I grew up in a small village in the Kurdistan region of Iraq so I have great contact with nature,” says Soran Ahmed, who is currently a Masters of Science student in entomology at the University of Sulaimani. “I have a huge interest in studying biodiversity of Iraq, mainly insect diversity but I also love identifying any animals I find in our nature, and conserving threatened animals. I usually go to the field at least once a week to find animal diversity in our region.”

Soran found the monitor lizard you see above near a water source (see video here), and tells me they’re at risk of being killed by humans due to a misunderstanding about their behavior. The lizard’s local common name translates roughly as “goat sucker” and people in the area mistakenly believe they bite the teats of goats and sheep, and will thus sometimes dispatch them.

This monitor species was described in 2015 by Wolfgang Böhme, et al. A specimen was actually collected in 1914 by Russian herpetologist P.V. Nesterov, who “had intended to include them as a new Varanus species in his long manuscript on the reptiles of Kurdistan,” but he was not able to finish his work due to the outbreak of World War I and the Russian Revolution of 1917. A closer look at these once forgotten specimens, along with a recent photo of the lizard in the field by Willi Schneider, led to further study and finally a description of the species. Although little is known about these lizards, they are believed to range only in “the western and southwestern margin of the Zagros Mountain range on both sides of the Iraqi/Iranian border and down to the area of Shiraz, Fars Province, Iran.”

Soran (above) says “since we do not have sufficient sources for identification, using iNaturalist indeed helps me for identification purposes; it is really helpful. It’s also a perfect gate for sharing our diversity with other peoples around the world.”

- by Tony Iwane. Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity and flow.

- Take a look at Soran’s YouTube channel, and he also has an Instagram account here

- There are over 7,500 monitor observations on iNat, check them out!

- Another reptile in the region, the spider-tailed horned viper, was also only recently described after a specimen was collected decades ago. It was the subject of an Observation of the Week post back in 2016.

Posted by tiwane tiwane, June 28, 2020 20:52



Nice bideo! And definitely a good story of description after 100+ year delay.

Posted by melodi_96 about 2 months ago (Flag)

A gorgeous rare monitor lizard! Chokran -- thank you -- Soran Ahmed!

@tiwane, can you rotate Soran's image, so that it shows correctly?

Posted by susanhewitt about 2 months ago (Flag)

Both photos look good to me in Firefox, Chrome, and Safari, @susanhewitt. But I uploaded a new version of the image, let me know if it works for you. If not, please send a screenshot to

Posted by tiwane about 2 months ago (Flag)

@tiwane -- now it looks fine, thanks. I am using Safari.

Posted by susanhewitt about 2 months ago (Flag)

That is an awesome story. Way to go @soran4!

Posted by sullivanribbit about 2 months ago (Flag)


Posted by lisa_bennett about 2 months ago (Flag)

Nice observation!!!

Posted by sajibbiswas about 2 months ago (Flag)

Wait a minute - what's an Entomologist doing looking at something with so few legs....
Seriously, it's a wonderful find, and a nice reminder that in spite of all the conflict and turmoil that Iraq has been through, that people are still living normal lives. It's often easy to forget that. Good luck with your Masters @soran4 !

Posted by mamestraconfigurata about 2 months ago (Flag)

Way to go! Beautiful lizard.

Posted by wetlandsuzanne about 2 months ago (Flag)

This is great!

Posted by tristantaber about 2 months ago (Flag)


Posted by jmaughn about 2 months ago (Flag)

thank you all for your kindness and your creative comments. I wish all these cratures will remain safely within thier habitats.

Posted by soran4 about 2 months ago (Flag)

Very nice find!

Posted by ken-potter about 2 months ago (Flag)

Congratulations on a great find!

Posted by wendyjalexander about 2 months ago (Flag)


Posted by annikaml about 2 months ago (Flag)

Fantastic! Thanks for sharing!

Posted by sonnekke about 2 months ago (Flag)

That´s so cool! Congrats for this observation!

Posted by ajott about 2 months ago (Flag)
Posted by abounabat about 2 months ago (Flag)

Great find! Thank you and am glad you too, find iNaturalist a helpful tool to Id. and share with others!

Posted by katharinab about 2 months ago (Flag)

@soran4 has now added another great observation of the same monitor species with five stills from a video taken in 2019:

Posted by rupertclayton about 2 months ago (Flag)

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