Every time we read about nature and wildlife in India, it is almost always depressing news about how elephants are being tortured and how the tiger population is dwindling to extinction. However, there has been a lot of good news too, which is mostly ignored. It is extremely unusual for new biological species to be discovered, and the number of new discoveries from India in recent years is simply astounding. Here is a sampling of some of these treasures.
Peacock Blue Tarantula
Outlook reports: The spectacular Peacock Tarantula was named on the basis of a single specimen obtained at Gooty (Andhra Pradesh) railway station’s timber yard in 1899. Naturalists doggedly searched the area for the spider. About 102 years later, some distance from Gooty, they found the most beautiful spider in the world in a totally degraded forest. Within five hours. While this re-discovery went totally unnoticed in India, it set the network of European and American animal dealers buzzing. Within a year 12 specimens of the tarantula were smuggled out of the country and the babies hit the pet trade the following year. In 2005 when I visited an exotic pet expo in the United States each baby was worth US $350, down from $1,000 in 2003.
Yet another effortless discovery happened at the field station of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Environmental Team in 2004. Lizard researcher Shreyas Krishnan heard a splash in the rapidly growing pond outside. A lizard it was, and one that neither he nor any of the numerous visiting herpetologists had ever seen before. Shreyas had discovered not only a species, but a whole new genus.
Large-Billed Reed Warbler
The Large-billed Reed-warbler is the world’s least known bird. A single bird was collected in the Sutlej Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India, in 1867, but many had questioned whether it indeed represented a true species. A live specimen was then trapped by Philip D. Round in March 2006 in Thailand and it was confirmed to be a new species.
This bird was sighted at Narendrapur, 10 kms from Kolkata on 1st April 2007.
In September 2006, the National Geographic reported that an amateur bird-watcher who was an astronomer, found the first new bird species to be discovered in India in over 50 years.
No specimen was taken, because “we thought the bird was just too rare for one to be killed,” said Ramana Athreya, the bird’s discoverer, in a statement.
Because the Bugun liocichla is so distinctive and doesn’t appear to fear humans, experts say it must be extremely rare or it would have been discovered before now.
Smallest Indian Land Vertebrate
A few days back, Science Daily reported that India’s smallest land vertebrate, a 10-millimeter frog, has been discovered from the Western Ghats of Kerala by Delhi University Systematics Biologist, S D Biju and his colleagues.
Adult males are barely 10 mm in length. In this photograph, the frog is placed on an Indian 5 rupee coin. Biju gave a new name for the frog, Nyctibatrachus minimus.
New Frog Family
In 2003, Biju had discovered a bright purple, bloated frog in the Western Ghats that was so unique it merited the establishment of not only a new species but also a new family.
This creature evolved during the heyday of the dinosaurs. Dubbed Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis, it evolved about 130 million years ago, prior to the break up of India and the Seychelles around 65 million years ago.
As a well populated country of over a billion people, India seems an unlikely place to discover a new primate species. The last time in the world that researchers spotted a new macaque was in the Mentawai islands of Indonesia in 1903.
Hence the surprise discovery of this new monkey species made headlines over the world.
Macaca Munzala, as it was named, grabbed the attention of ecologists as it is one of the highest-dwelling primates in the world.
In May this year, an Indian zoologist found a new species of limbless lizard in a forested area in Orissa.
“Preliminary scientific study reveals that the lizard belongs to the genus Sepsophis,” said Sushil Kumar Dutta, who led a team of researchers from “Vasundhra,” a non-governmental organization, and the North Orissa University.
While modern snakes and lizards are derived from a common evolutionary ancestor, they belong today to two entirely separate groups of animals, or orders.
Indian Egg-Eating Snake
Outlook reports: Another herpetological breakthrough was the rediscovery of the Indian Egg-Eating Snake, a toothless specialist. It was first found in Rangpur (now in Bangladesh) in 1863. Subsequently it disappeared altogether. In 2003, a specimen of the long lost Indian Egg-Eater turned up in Maharashtra.
Here’s the Wikipedia entry for the Elachistodon westermanni, as it is called.
New Dinosaur Species
Not a living species, but worthy of inclusion in this collection, a new species of dinosaur was discovered in 2003 along the Narmada river in Gujarat.
It has been named Rajasaurus narmadensis, or the regal reptile from Narmada. The age of the bones meant that Rajasaurus was a contemporary of Tyrannosaurus rex and therefore one of the last species to live before the dinosaurs were wiped out.
(Credits: This was inspired by the Outlook article referenced in the post, from which I decided to do further research. Photographs are from the articles linked to from the post)