Mumbai: The Thackeray Wildlife Foundation (TWF) has discovered one new genus and five new species of ‘Viviparous Skinks’ – a reptile that gives birth to young ones – from the forests of Maharashtra, Goa and Tamil Nadu, officials said here.
This is billed as the first record of such a viviparous reptile in the Indian Subcontinent, and the discovery has been made by Ishan Agarwal, Tejas U. Thackeray and Akshay Khandekar.
The discovery has been accorded recognition by the international scientific journal, ‘Vertebrate Zoology’, published from Germany.
As a tribute to the main region of south India where the discovery was made, the researchers have named the new genus ‘Dravidoseps’, a combination of the Sanskrit words ‘Dravid’ and ‘Seps’.
The Dravidoseps genus is distinct from the Subdoluseps genus as it gives birth to its young – instead of laying eggs – plus it has transparent lower lids and other genetic differences, said the researcher trio.
All five newly-discovered species are from the state of Tamil Nadu, and have been christened as ‘Dravidoseps Gingeeensis’ (from the Gingee Hills), ‘Dravidoseps Jawadhuensis’ (Jawadhu Hills), ‘Dravidoseps Kalakadensis’ (Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve), ‘Dravidoseps Srivilliputhurensis’ (Srivilliputhur Megamalai Tiger Reserve) and ‘D. Tamilnaduensis’ (Kolli, Pachaimalai and Yercaud Hills).
Three more species, ‘Ryopa Gowaensis’, ‘Subdoluceps Pardi’ and ‘Subdoluceps Nilgiriensis’, have been relocated in the newly discovered genus.
“All the members of the Dravidoseps are the first known Viviparous Skinks from peninsular India and the only known Viviparous Lygosominins besides a few species of east African Mochlus. The discovery of a new genus and five new species reiterates the high levels of diversity and endemism present in peninsular India and how much more remains to be discovered,” said the research paper.
The species ‘Dravidoseps Gouensis’, included in the new genus, has been recorded from Utsum in North Goa as well as Sindhudurg (Amboli) and Kolhapur districts of Maharashtra.
In Kolhapur district, it has been reported from the areas of Radhanagari, Pandivare (Bhudargad), Talye (Gaganbawda) and Vashi (Panhala).
The research team collected 89 samples of Skinks from 33 places and after five years of research, expeditions and labour, they finally succeeded in discovering the new genus and five new species spread across the three states, two in the west and one in south India.
The scientists studied the anatomical features, gene set, geographical area and history, as well as the evolution period of these species.
The researchers explained that the timing of giving birth to a young one in reptiles is linked to low-temperature habitats.
It is believed that the adaptation of giving direct birth may have evolved as a solution to the difficulties of hatching eggs in low temperatures, and most species of reptiles that give birth to their young are recorded from this tropical region.
Presently, there are more than 40 species of reptiles recorded in India but this is the first-ever record of a Viviparous Skink for the Indian subcontinent, and it has generated a lot of curiosity in the scientific world.
This feat is also considered very significant, as only five Skink species were discovered in India in the last more than 40 years, including just two from peninsular India, and the endemicity of these species underlines the importance of their habitat conservation.
The TWF said that it is constantly working towards research and conservation of neglected species like reptiles, and till date they have succeeded in discovering more than 40 new species of reptiles.