Over 8.7 million species are known to be found on Earth today, but many scientists believe that we have only scratched the surface. Globally, hundreds of new species were discovered in the last two years. In India, the year 2018 was no less eventful! Scientists here discovered several new species of frogs, reptiles, fish, plants, insects and microorganisms.
“The sudden burst in amphibian discoveries in India in the past 20 years or so is largely due to the fact that people have started looking at frogs scientifically. The internet has also played a huge role in making scientific publications readily accessible to those interested in studying amphibians,” says Dr Stephen Mahony, who discovered several species of frogs and geckos in India this year.
Many of the newly discovered species are already on the brink of extinction due to human-induced pressures, emphasising the need for more such efforts before we lose them undiscovered!
A new species of narrow-mouthed frog was discovered in Mangaluru, Karnataka by researchers from Mangalore University, St Aloysius Pre-University College and Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE). Interestingly, this frog was discovered in, and is exclusively recorded from, an industrial area in the city that is surrounded by seaport, petrochemical, chemical and refinery industries. It was named Microhyla kodial after Mangaluru, which is called Kodial in Konkani.
Researchers from the Sálim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History, Coimbatore, and the Natural History Museum, London, have discovered a new species of shieldtail snake, Uropeltis bhupathyi, from the Anaikatty Hills in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. It is named after herpetologist Dr Subramanian Bhupathy. These are non-venomous, burrowing snakes found only in India and Sri Lanka. They are about 27-39 cm long and have a blackish-brown body with iridescent scales on the top, a greyish underside and a moderate tail shield.
A new high-altitude-dwelling agamid lizard was discovered by scientists from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, Bombay Natural History Society, Mumbai, Oklahoma State University, US, and The Natural History Museum, London. This species, Monilesaurus montanus, named after the word
‘montane’, is restricted to the high elevation shola forests of Kudremukh, Brahmagiri, Nilgiri and Elivalmalai. These yellowish-green lizards have alternating light and dark brown patches on the back. They are arboreal and have small distributional ranges and pre-monsoon is believed to be their breeding season.
Cyrtodactylus guwahatiensis, named after the city of Guwahati, is the fifth gecko to be described from a major Indian city after two were found in Bengaluru and one each in Delhi and Mumbai. So far, researchers know little about the ecology, behaviour and geographic range of these species, apart from the fact that all these geckos are nocturnal and live on rocks or walls.
A new species of badid fish, named Dario neela, is described from a stream of River Kabini in Kerala by researchers from Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune and The Natural History Museum, London. This tiny fish, only about an inch long, was named ‘neela’, which means ‘blue’ in Hindi and some other Indian languages because of its iridescent blue colouration around the male fish’s dorsal and ventral fins.
Researchers from the Zoological Survey of India discovered a new species of water strider named Ptilomera nagalanda from the state of Nagaland. Water striders are groups of insects with long legs covered in thousands of microscopic hair which enable them to adapt to life on the surface of water bodies. The new species measures about 1.2 cm long with orange and black stripes on its body and is only found in fast flowing streams.
A new species of swamp eel, Monopterus rongsaw, was discovered in the remote forests of Meghalaya by researchers from the Natural History Museum, London and the University of Manchester, UK. It was named ‘rongsaw’ after the Khasi word for red, referring to the blood-red colour of the eel. Interestingly, this fish was found not in water but burrowing in the damp soil, around 50 metres from the nearest stream. Swamp eels live in caves, underground aquifers and in the soil. They are blind and breathe air through their mouth unlike other fish.
Among the new species of diatoms discovered in the Himalayas and Western Ghats in 2018, the Gomphonema mayamae from the Eastern Himalayas near Arunachal Pradesh was the most interesting find. Researchers from Botanical Survey of India, Agharkar Research Institute and University of Colorado, Boulder were behind this discovery. Diatoms are microscopic algae which are found in water bodies all over the world. The new species, which has a unique fringed structure in its head pole region of the girdle band, is the first such freshwater species to be found.
Scientists from the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun discovered a rare sub-species of hog deer, Axis porcinus annamiticus, in Keibul Lamjao National Park, Manipur, which was previously only known to be found in Thailand, Indo-China, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Genetic analysis of different populations of hog deer led to the finding of the first record for this sub-species in India, indicating that the western limit of hog deer’s geographic range is Manipur. The hog deer is listed as endangered in the IUCN Red List and the presence of an isolated population indicates that effective management is necessary to sustain this population.
A grass-like plant has been discovered in Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve in Ponmudi, Kerala by researchers from the University College, Palayam and named Fimbristylis agasthyamalaensis. This plant which flowers and fruits from October to March was found growing at elevations of around 800 m above sea level. A preliminary assessment revealed that this plant only has a range of about 2 sqkm with less than 50 known individuals. They were found to be highly threatened by grazing from wild animals and the researchers recommend it to be listed as critically endangered in the IUCN Red List.
(The author is with Gubbi Labs, Bengaluru)