A new species of gecko was found in the Eastern Ghats in northern Andhra Pradesh. The reptile, which is endemic to the area, was identified as a different species after a five-year study.
Named after eminent herpetologist Sushil Kumar Dutta from Odisha, Hemidactylus sushilduttai or Dutta’s Mahendragiri gecko is the 32nd species of house geckos (Hemidactylus) from India, and among the largest in its genus. The genus has around 90 species across the world.
“The new species was earlier misidentified as the spotted rock gecko (Hemidactylus maculatus) – a large-bodied lizard, endemic to the northern Western Ghats in Maharashtra. However, after studying its DNA, we found that the two species have geographically separated populations that deeply divergent from each other, and morphological characters showed that the new species has many unique, diagnostic characters,” said Giri, lead author of the paper.
He added that the species was identified from few areas in northern Mahendragiri range and scattered coastal hills in northern Andhra Pradesh. “Most of our conservation efforts are concentrated on the Western Ghats. This discovery highlights the importance of conserving this mountainous forest region as a biodiversity hotspot,” said Dr Giri.
This is the second gecko endemic to this hilly range and the third vertebrate as other endemics in the region are — Jeypore Indian gecko (Cyrtodactylus jeyporensis) and Gegeneophis orientalis — caecilian amphibian.
Dutta’s Mahendragiri gecko grows up to 225mm in length with its tail half its size. It is nocturnal and lives on rocks, large trees and coffee plantations at altitudes between 250-1,100 m above sea level, the study found.
The discovery, report of which was published earlier this month in the taxonomy journal Zootaxa ,was a collaborative effort between scientists from multiple Indian and international institutions including authors — Dr. Varad Giri from the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Dr Pratyush Mohapatra, Zoological Survey of India, Jabalpur, Aaron Bauer from Villanova University, Pennyslvania, US, Dr. Chelmala Srinivasulu from Osmania University, Hyderabad and Ishan Agarwal, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Bangalore.