In pics: On World Environment Day, take a look at ‘Maharashtra’s dragon’, the fan-throated lizard

Updated on Jun 05, 2017 08:46 PM IST

Mumbai city news: The sarada superba species of this lizard is found only at Chalkewadi in Satara

A male fan-throated lizard stands atop a rock in the hopes of attracting a partner.(Pratik Chorge/HT Photo)
A male fan-throated lizard stands atop a rock in the hopes of attracting a partner.(Pratik Chorge/HT Photo)
By, Mumbai

Last year, a team of scientists identified a species of fan-throated lizard (sarada superba) in Chalkewadi near Satara in Maharashtra. They confirmed that this species, which is blue, orange and black across its throat, is found only in Chalkewadi.

Pratik Chorge, photojournalist with Hindustan Times, visited the area last month and spotted the lizard at four locations. “They were mostly seen in rocky areas, where they would wait patiently atop stones while I clicked photographs,” he said. “At one spot, I saw two male lizards engaged in a territorial dispute. When the species gets aggressive, a distinctive blue colour develops along its back.”

Two male fan-throated lizards adopt an aggressive stance before they fight to establish territorial dominance. (Pratik Chorge/HT )
Two male fan-throated lizards adopt an aggressive stance before they fight to establish territorial dominance. (Pratik Chorge/HT )

The species is named after its dramatic displays and large dewlap skin hanging from the neck. ‘Superbus’ in Latin means ‘magnificent’.

Researchers from the Centre for Ecological Sciences (CES), Indian Institute of Science (IISC) and National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bangalore, identified one new genera and five new species of fan-throated lizards in India last year. Of these, sarada superba was among the most unique species. The group, led by Dr V Deepak of IISC, published a paper in the journal ‘Contributions to Zoology’ last year.

HT’s photographer said the lizards did not move a muscle while he was clicking photos of them. (Pratik Chorge/HT )
HT’s photographer said the lizards did not move a muscle while he was clicking photos of them. (Pratik Chorge/HT )

The first species of fan-throated lizard ‘sitana ponticeriana’ was spotted in Pondicherry and described by the French naturalist and father of Paleontology, Georges Cuvier.

Earlier, the assumption was that this was the only species of fan-throated lizard. However, last year’s discoveries revealed other species such as sitana laticeps, sitana spinaecephalus, sitana visiri, sarada darwini. A new genus, Sarada, a distinct sister group to Sitana, was spotted across Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

“Sarada superba is a species found only at high elevation plateaus in Chalkewadi. The dry arid landscape has perfect ecological conditions that ensure the species’ survival,” said Dr Varad Giri, curator, herpetology, NCBS, who was part of the study. “The species has an almost ocean-blue, turquoise colour all the way down from its mouth to the end of its throat, followed by a small black portion. Its stomach is orange,” he said.

The males of this species open their fans to attract females, said researchers. (Pratik Chorge/HT)
The males of this species open their fans to attract females, said researchers. (Pratik Chorge/HT)

He added that during their mating period, which is between May and June, the male develops colours on its throat, called ‘gular’, to attract females. “The males are territorial and wait hours for the female to find them. During this time, the gular can be distinctly seen. Females are attracted by the orange colour of the lizard,” said Dr Giri. “We do not know where the lizard goes for the rest of the year. We believe it feeds on insects.”

Chorge said he spotted five lizards on which gular had developed. They were trying to attract the females of their species. “They did not move a muscle. However, as soon as they sense a threat, they can run as fast as rabbits,” he said.

A pregnant fan-throated lizard spotted in Satara. (Pratik Chorge/HT )
A pregnant fan-throated lizard spotted in Satara. (Pratik Chorge/HT )

These species have a maximum length of eight inches. The have a three-inch-long body and a five-inch-long tail. “Chalkewadi is densely populated by fan-throated lizards. However, we do not know exactly how many there are. There is need for more detailed studies about this rare species,” said Dr Giri.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Badri Chatterjee is an environment correspondent at Hindustan Times, Mumbai. He writes about environment issues - air, water and noise pollution, climate change - weather, wildlife - forests, marine and mangrove conservation

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