A tiny new lizard species has been discovered in Western Australia, and just in time: its only known habitat is already being destroyed.

The six-centimeter-long coastal plains skink (Ctenotus ora) lives in the sand dunes of the Swan Coastal Plain, which starts about 70 kilometers south of Perth. According to the researchers from Australian National University (ANU) who discovered the lizard, the area where it was found is being developed for new residential housing. The species specializes in sand dunes, so it lacks the ability to move and adapt to a new habitat.

"To find something as yet undetected, so close to one of the country’s largest cities, demonstrates how much we've still got to discover," Geoffrey Kay, an ecologist from ANU's Fenner School of Environment & Society, said in a prepared release. "Only a few of these lizards have ever been found in the wild, so while we know numbers are low, we are not sure of the exact size of the remaining population."

As detailed in a paper published in Zootaxa on July 17 (preview), Kay and ANU biology professor Scott Keogh sampled the DNA of all previously known Ctenotus species in southwestern Australia to come up with what they called "a comprehensive morphological dataset" for the regional branch of the genus. The process allowed them to describe the new species, which had not been previously recognized. Their paper describes it as smaller than the region's other skinks, with a darker coloration and a continuous white line down its back and side.

The authors are now calling for immediate steps to conserve the newly discovered skink before its habitat disappears forever.

Photo by Brad Maryan courtesy of Australian National University