Ecuador's Pinocchio anole is a creature so rarely seen that it was thought extinct for over 40 years before being rediscovered in 2005. The long-nosed lizard remains one of the region's most elusive reptiles, and to this day, spotting one is a challenge. Despite the odds, however, a team of scientists recently tracked it down.

The lizard (Anolis proboscis) was spotted by herpetologist Lucas Bustamante some 40 feet above the leaf litter in the cloud forests of Mindo. Also known as the Ecuadorian horned anole, this species can be found here and only here. 

"This was no small feat," recalls biologist and wildlife photographer Aaron Pomerantz, who was part of the expedition team. "This anole likes to hang out high in the canopy and has cryptic camouflage, meaning it blends in very well with the mossy branches and vegetation."

In order to film and photograph the rare animal, the team, which also included science journalist Dr Jason Goldman, had to climb a tree to get within reach. 

As you might have guessed, the lizard's common name stems from its unusual facial appendage, which is made mostly of cartilage. The structure is known as the proboscis, and only in recent years have we begun to understand its function. 

"One early hypothesis was that the males might use the horns to do battle, using their faces as if they had swords attached," writes Goldman for the BBC. But because the "horn" is flimsy, that theory didn't quite fit the bill. Only male anoles have these horns, so it's likely that they have something to do with sex. Our best guess is that a big proboscis tells any nearby female Pinocchio lizards that the male is fit to mate. 

But as Goldman explains, there's something else at play here: these lizards are born, well, horny. 

"That is unusual," he says. "Other horned lizards only develop their horns as they grow up. Nobody knows why the Ecuadorian anoles grow theirs so early, but it cannot be for attracting females." We're still unravelling the mystery, and that job is made particularly difficult by the lizards' hiding skills. These animals are almost impossible to find during the day, something this intrepid team found out firsthand.

The Pinocchio lizard has a small range and the added pressure of habitat loss has already landed it on the IUCN's list of endangered species. Without sufficient protection, the canopy-dwelling critter could be pushed to the brink before we fully understand its life and ecology. 

"We hope that by sharing this amazing and endangered creature, we can also help to encourage the protection of the cloud forests of Ecuador so that future generations can experience this habitat along with the incredible endemic species within," says Pomerantz. 

Follow the team's next adventure on here, here and here, Tropical Herping and Pomerantz's NextGenScientist blog!