Temporal range: Miocene, 7.6–6.9 Ma
|Vertebrae and skeletal restoration showing all known elements|
Conrad et al., 2012
Conrad, Balcarcel, & Mehling, 2012
Varanus amnhophilis, the Samos dragon, is an extinct species of monitor lizard from the Miocene of Greece. It was named in 2012 and placed in its own subgenus, Varaneades. It is only known from a partial skull and several vertebrae, but comparisons with other species of monitor lizard put its size between 60 and 80 centimetres (2.0 and 2.6 ft) in length. The fossil was found in the Turolian-age Mytilini Formation on the island of Samos and is currently housed in the American Museum of Natural History.
Discovery and naming
Varanus amnhophilis is known from several bone fragments, including the right side of the braincase, a right quadrate bone, part of the palate and skull roof, the right coronoid process and glenoid region of the lower jaw, a piece of the clavicle, and five vertebrae. These bones were found by American paleontologist Barnum Brown, who stored it in the mammal collections of the American Museum of Natural History. The specimen was not identified as a reptile until 2009. It was then that mammal paleontologist Nikos Solounias, who has worked extensively on Samos Island fossils, brought the fossil to the attention of Carl Mehling. Mehling removed the specimen from the fossil mammal collection and cataloged it as AMNH FR (fossil reptile) 30630. The specimen was described in 2012 as a new species of Varanus, and was placed in a new subgenus called Varaneades. The species name amnhophilis means "lover of lamb", from the Greek αμνόζ (amnhos, "lamb") and φιλiζ (philis, "a lover of"), as a reference to the diet of the largest living monitor lizards, which often includes sheep-sized (and larger) mammals. The subgenus name Varaneades comes from the genus name Varanus and the Neades, mythical beasts from Samos.
When the species was first described, the body length of Varanus amnhophilis was estimated by comparing the length of the braincase and an individual vertebra with their lengths in living species of monitor lizards. The ratios of braincase length to postcranial length and dorsal (back) vertebra length to postcranial length are very similar for many monitor species, and were used to estimate the postcranial length of V. amnhophilis. The first ratio gave an estimated postcranial length of about 71.26 centimetres (2.338 ft) and the second gave a length of about 66.45 centimetres (2.180 ft).