New gecko species discovered in Western Ghats after 6-year study
A new lizard species has been identified from the Western Ghats in Karnataka after a six-year study. It is one of the largest of its species reported from India.
The large-bodied dwarf gecko was discovered near Hongadahalla village, Sakleshpur, Hassan district in Karnataka, by researchers from the Thackeray Wildlife Foundation Mumbai, National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bangalore, and the Bombay Natural History Society.
The findings were published in the international taxonomic journal, Zootaxa on Wednesday.
Named ‘Magnificent dwarf gecko’ (Cnemaspis magnifica), the species is endemic to rocky regions and was found on vertical rock faces around Sakleshpur. With a maximum length of 58 millimetres, the new species can be identified as having a light brown tail and limbs with numerous light patches on its slightly darker brown-coloured head. Its eyes have a black outline with a thin brick red iris.
The species is distinguished from others in its genus due to its size, round pupils (other gecko species from other genus have vertical pupils), and minimal differences on its body. “When we first saw this gecko in 2014 near Sakleshpur, we thought it could be a new species to science but owing lack of comparative research material from already identified geckos of this genus, we needed to conduct more studies,” said Akshay Khandekar, lead and corresponding author, who documented the findings along with Tejas Thackeray, Saunak Pal, and Ishan Agarwal.
In June 2018, the team conducted fieldwork to assess the exact locality where the species has been documented from across the Western Ghats and collected specimen for comparative studies. “When we finished our lab work which includes morphological and genetic studies, we realised that the gecko species was in fact new to science,” said Khandekar.
Dwarf geckos belong to the genus Cnemaspis, and are one of the oldest Indian squamates (largest in the order of snakes and lizards), that originated around 50 million years ago from the Western Ghats. There are about 50 species reported from the Western Ghats, Mysore plateau, Eastern Ghats, Assam, and Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Experts said these discoveries were crucial from the point of view of protecting the Western Ghats. “These discoveries are an indicator that we are losing species faster without even knowing we are losing them. Rather than giving away more areas to industries and mining, it is essential to protect the Western Ghats not only for the rich biodiversity but a critical source of water,” said Romulus Whitaker, veteran herpetologist and wildlife conservationist.