Researchers discover new species of gecko within Goa University campus
Researchers working at the Department of Zoology Goa University and the Thackeray Wildlife Foundation, Mumbai, have discovered a new species of gecko – it is the smallest known species of that genus with a maximum length of 32 mm -- believed to be endemic to the biodiversity-rich Western Ghats.
The species of the Hemiphyllodactylus genus has now been given a scientific name, Hemiphyllodactylus goaensis, named after Goa in which it was found, and it has been suggested that it be commonly called the Goan slender gecko.
Interestingly, one of the specimens was found and collected from within the Goa University campus, making it the first species to be discovered (figuratively speaking) right under the noses of the researchers at the Goa University.
Specimens of Hemiphyllodactylus goaensis were found from two localities in Goa – two in north Goa at Goa University campus and one in south Goa at Chandor, that are about 30 km straight line distance apart.
“This indicates the richness of the university campus as well as the diversity of reptiles in Goa which has been poorly studied,” the researchers led by Akansh Khandekar of the Thackeray Wildlife Foundation and Dikansh Parmar studying at the Goa University, have said in their published paper.
All specimens of the newly discovered species were found in similar microhabitats, in human habitation dwelling on walls. Goa University is located on a flat, coastal, lateritic outcrop with seasonally dry grasslands with scattered vegetation with shrubs and trees while the Chandor location is a semi-urban residential area.
Besides its small size, the species is also differentiated by its 16–18 dorsal scales and 13 or 14 ventral scales at mid-body, contained within one longitudinal eye diameter, as well as subtle colour pattern differences.
The researchers confirmed that it was indeed a different species through mitochondrial gene sequencing establishing its distinctive identity, which is not closely allied to either the South Indian or Eastern Ghats clades of Indian Hemiphyllodactylus and appears to be a member of a third Indian Hemiphyllodactylus clade. A clade classifies a group of organisms believed to comprise all the evolutionary descendants of a common ancestor.
The new species is the first member of the genus to be described from the northern Western Ghats region as well as Goa state, and also only the second Indian Hemiphyllodactylus known from < 100 m above sea level. The discovery helps scientists expand their knowledge of Indian geckos and extends the known distribution of the genus in western India ~ 560 km north in aerial distance and highlights that the genus is more widely distributed than previously thought and most likely contains numerous undescribed species.
“All specimens showed tail wagging behaviour and after a short stride or slow walk they also exhibited leaping behaviour. Hemiphyllodactylus goaensis sp. nov. are moderate to slow in movement but active hunters, in captivity they preyed upon small crickets, small moths, bugs and cockroaches. When larger insects (double in size than the head of geckos) were offered, the geckos would grab them in their mouths and shake their heads with vigorous movements to tear the insects into pieces in order to eat them,” the researchers said.
The species is not believed to be endangered but the researchers say they face possible threats from “construction, and sometimes the burning of vegetation which may lead to habitat loss for the species,” the research paper says.
“We are conducting additional sampling to understand the distribution and diversity of the genus Hemiphyllodactylus to determine if there is more than one species in Goa and other regions of the northern Western Ghats. In addition, we are trying to understand the natural habitats of Hemiphyllodactylus goaensis sp. nov., that has so far only been collected from human habitation,” the researchers said.
Prior to the gecko, a cecilian and a crab found and described in Goa have also been named after the state.