'Dragon' Lizard Named for the 'Hobbit' Pummeled by Poachers
Humans are vanquishing the “sun gazer” lizard for the pet trade and traditional medicine.
Smaug is in peril. But it’s not Smaug the wicked dragon in Tolkien’s The Hobbit that’s under siege. Calamity has instead beset Smaug giganteus, a spiky lizard that looks exactly like a miniature dragon—and is now being decimated by poaching and development, scientists say.
Tolkien’s Smaug is enormous and fiery. The lizards are neither. They don’t breathe flames, and many are barely longer than a tube of toothpaste. (But they’re twice as big as closely related lizards, hence the label “giganteus.”)
Like all self-respecting dragons, they’re heavily armored. Their bodies bristle with sharp, bony spikes, to the detriment of jackals and birds of prey—and well-intentioned researchers who study the lizards in South Africa’s eastern grasslands, where they live. “They’ve drawn blood on