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Monday, 3 December, 2001, 11:24 GMT
Tiny gecko is 'world's smallest'
Jaragua Sphaero, AFP
The animal carries the scientific name Sphaerodactylus ariasae
The little creature crawling across the coin is said to be the world's smallest reptile.

The Jaragua Sphaero or dwarf gecko measures just 1.6 centimetres (three-quarters of an inch) in length and is reported in the December issue of the Caribbean Journal of Science.

The species lives in Jaragua National Park in the Dominican Republic and on Beata Island, off the southern coast of Hispaniola, the island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

It was identified by biologists Blair Hedges, from Pennsylvania State University, US, and Richard Thomas, from the University of Puerto Rico.

"Our discovery illustrates that we still don't know everything about the Earth's species, even in areas that are very close to the United States," said Hedges.

"We did not even know the species existed, although the area has been studied by biologists for several hundred years."

The researchers say the animal, which has been given the scientific name Sphaerodactylus ariasae, is endangered.

"The Caribbean is one of the richest places on Earth in terms of unique species, but they are extremely threatened," said Michael Smith, senior research fellow for the Center for Applied Biodiversity Science at Conservation International, which announced the discovery on Monday.

"If the Caribbean continues to lose species at the current rate," he added, "then one of the world's most distinctive natural systems will be devastated in our lifetimes."

The BBC's Roger Black
"It is smaller than any reptile, mammal or bird yet discovered"
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