Discovery of new species of lizard in northern Kerala ignites scanner into illegal mining

In an important find, a team of researchers came across two species of lizards in northern Kerala, one of which has been documented in a hilly area prone to persistent illegal mining. The finding underscores the importance of protecting these already vulnerable areas of the Western Ghats from unplanned development activities.

Cnemaspis chengodumalaensis takes its name from the Chengodumala region in Kozhikode district, where it occurs naturally in rock crevices. It is a nocturnal gecko endemic to the Western Ghats. The Chengodumala Hills have been subject to indiscriminate granite mining for several decades, and villagers and local activists have demanded a reassessment of the quarry’s environmental impact assessment.

With the discovery, their concerns about the lack of a proper biodiversity survey were justified, indicating the need for a policy change before permits were issued to quarry developers.

The other species, Cnemaspis zacharyi, has been found in the hills of the neighboring Wayanad district, which has also been prone to the adverse effects of climate change resulting from activities such as deforestation, plantation shoring and mining. illegal. The species of lizard is named after Dr. Anil Zachariah, a renowned batrachologist who contributed immensely to the discovery of new species of amphibians in the Western Ghats.

The researchers say that the two species can be differentiated from all other Indian congeners by a series of distinct morphological and genetic characters. The team’s findings were published in the latest edition of the International Journal of Vertebrate Zoology, based in Germany.

“We first discovered these species in 2013. At that time, we weren’t looking at them seriously. These geckos look a lot like another species, so we needed a lot more data to establish if they are in fact a different species. We have visited a few museums to see specimens that have been deposited here. We checked about 50 different specimens from these museums and were able to conclude that this is a new species, ”said Vivek Philip Cyriac, the lead author of the article.

Cnemaspis zacharyi was named after Dr Anil Zachariah, a renowned batrachologist who contributed immensely to the discovery of new species of amphibians in the Western Ghats.

“So far, most of the investigations have been carried out in protected areas and deep jungles. But it turns out that there is a lot of diversity outside of the protected areas that we have neglected so far. This study prompts us to examine diversity outside of protected areas. These are regions that face a serious threat of mining and unplanned development, ”he added.

Both species of lizards, although referred to as day geckos, are actually nocturnal in nature. They are terrestrial creatures and live in crevices in rocks. They are classified as “critically endangered” by the IUCN.

“We have observed Cnemaspis zacharyi feeding on cave crickets. We have found many individuals of this species living in cave systems in areas like Vythiri, Lakkidi and so on. We don’t know much about their ecology and behavior. We need dedicated systematic research to learn a lot more about the ecology of these species, ”Cyriac said.

Future studies and research, Cyriac hopes, will shed light on the “cryptic diversity” within the Western Ghats where large numbers of reptile species, though physically similar to each other, await discovery and documentation.

“The actual diversity within the Western Ghats is hugely underestimated at the moment. We need dedicated work on a larger scale to understand how development activities impact such diversity, ”said Cyriac.

Besides Cyriac, the research team included Muhamed Jafer Palot, Koushik Deuti and Umesh Pavukandy.

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