Six new lizard species discovered in Western Ghats

Dravidogecko is a small-sized lizard restricted to mid to high altitude moist forests.

Six new species of lizards in the Dravidogecko family have been identified in the Western Ghats by a group of scientists, who say this is a significant development as only one species in the genus was known so far.

The study points to the importance of the Western Ghats, the World Heritage mountain range crossing the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat, as a ‘biodiversity hotspot’ , the researchers said.

The study and collection of samples has been carried out over the past four years and the research paper describing the new species has been published in ZooTaxons reviewed October 21.

According to a previous study, Dravidogecko anamallensis evolved about 58 million years ago when the Indian subcontinent was separated from African land, said Varad Giri, director of the Pune-based Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, which was also part of the ‘Research Team.

Dwellers of the rainforest

“Until recently, only one species (of Dravidogecko anamallensis described in 1875 by German-born British zoologist Albert Gunther) was recognized under this genus, which was perceived to be widespread in the Western Ghats,” he said. Dravidogecko is a small-sized lizard restricted to mid to high altitude moist forests. The reptile is found in the mountain range from Wayanad (Kerala) in the north to Tirunelveli (Tamil Nadu) in the south along the southern Western Ghats, he said.

“Out of curiosity, our team set out to study these enigmatic and supposedly ancient geckos to understand their diversity and evolutionary origin,” said Bengaluru-based herpetologist R. Chaitanya, who led the research. PTI. “This sampling, undertaken extensively from Wayanad to Trivandrum in the Western Ghats, revealed that there was not one but at least six new species of the family hidden in plain sight.”

These geckos are mainly nocturnal and great climbers. They prefer to occupy tree trunks and abandoned buildings in the middle of their natural habitat, Giri said. “All these different species occupy the same ecological niche through their distribution and therefore show very few morphological differences. However, DNA-based molecular analysis can easily tell them apart… The study highlights the importance of the Western Ghats as a biodiversity hotspot and the large number of yet undiscovered species in this region.

The six new species have been named

  • Dravidogecko septentrionalis,
  • D. janakiae (after botanist Janaki Ammal from Kerala)
  • D. tholpalli
  • D. meghamalaiensis
  • D.douglasadamsi (from British author and satirist Douglas Noel Adams)
  • D. smithi (in honor of British herpetologist Malcolm Arthur Smith)

Other members of the research team were Dr Deepak Veerappan from the Natural History Museum in London, Dr Aniruddha Datta-Roy from the National Institute of Science Education and Research based in Bhubaneswar, Dr BHCK Murthy from the Zoological Survey of India, Kozhikode, and Dr Praveen Karanth of the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru.

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