He already has a long list of species – both alive and extinct – named after him, but Sir David Attenborough can now add another: Platysaurus attenboroughi.
Literally meaning “Attenborough’s flat lizard,” this is actually the first lizard to be named after the biologist. The newly discovered species, found in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa and the Fish River Canyon region of southern Namibia, is described in the journal Zootaxa.
“We thought it fitting the lizard be named after the world-famous naturalist after he made famous a closely related flat lizard species in the BBC series Life in Cold Blood,” said Dr. Martin Whiting. The lizard that Dr. Whiting is referring to is the Augrabies flat lizard, P. broadleyi, filmed in South Africa performing colorful displays to get mates and acrobatics to get a meal. In fact, it was Dr. Whiting and his colleagues who helped them capture the sequence almost a decade ago.
The sequence of David Attenborough and the flat lizards filmed in South Africa for "Life in Cold Blood," broadcast in 2008. Credit: BBCWorldwide/YouTube
The video shows quite nicely how the lizards get their name. During the chilly South African nights, the reptiles crawl into rock crevices and wait it out until morning, their low profile helping them fit into the tight space. When the Sun rises and things start to heat up, the squashed-looking lizards emerge from the small gaps and start to sunbathe in the early rays.
This is when the male’s bright, garish colors come out, as they start displaying to each other by lifting and twisting their bodies, flashing their bright orange bellies in order to win the attention of drabber females. Interestingly, the researchers have also found that the male's neck skin can reflect UV light, while the females' can’t.
“Flat lizards attracted my attention some years ago, and since then we have been working on understanding their social system, how colour functions in communication, and how the various species are related,” explained Dr. Whiting from Macquarie University, Sydney. “It was during this process that we realised there were more species than currently described and there was a real need to uncover or build a 'family tree' for flat lizards. This is something our team is currently working on.”
The lizard is just the latest addition to many named after Sir David. From the largest pitcher plant in the world (Nepenthes attenboroughii), to one of only four species of long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus attenboroughi). Not content with just species, there’s a whole genus of flowering plants named after him (Sirdavidia), and even an extinct genus of plesiosaurs (Attenborosaurus).