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New species of skink in Western Ghats

Context:

In September 2019, a group of herpetologists stumbled upon a new species: an Asian gracile skink.

Relevance:

Prelims, GS-III: Environment and Ecology (Important Species in News)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What are Skinks?
  2. Noteworthy Species in India
  3. About the new species found in Western Ghats

What are Skinks?

  • With long bodies, relatively small or no legs, no pronounced neck and glossy scales, skinks are common reptiles around homes, garages, and open spaces such as sparks and school playgrounds, and around lakes.
  • Although they are common reptiles and have a prominent role in maintaining ecosystems, not much is known about their breeding habits, and ecology because identification of the species can be confusing.
  • Skinks are highly alert, agile and fast moving and actively forage for a variety of insects and small invertebrates.
  • The reduced limbs of certain skink species or the complete lack of them make their slithering movements resemble those of snakes, leading people to have incorrect notion that they are venomous. This results in several of these harmless creatures being killed.
  • The Western Ghats are home to 24 species of which 18 are endemic to the region.
  • The Deccan Peninsular region is home to 19 species of which 13 are endemic.
  • There are records of 14 skink species from the northeast of which two species are endemic.
  • With over 1600 species of skinks across the world, making it the largest family of lizards, their occurrence in India is less than 4 % of the global diversity.

Noteworthy Species in India

  • Sepsophis (with one species) and Barkudia (with two species) are limbless skinks found in the hills and coastal plains of the eastern coast.
  • Barkudia insularisis believed to be found only in the Barkud Island in Chilka lake in Odisha. Barkudia melanosticta is endemic to Visakhapatnam.
  • Sepsophis punctatus is endemic to the northern part of Eastern Ghats.
  • Five species of Kaestlea (blue-tailed ground skinks) are endemic to the Western Ghats and four species of Ristella (Cat skinks) also endemic to the southern part of Western Ghats.

About the new species found in Western Ghats

  • Named Subdoluseps nilgiriensis, after the Nilgiris, the reptile has a slender body of just about 7 cm and is sandy brown in colour.
  • Subdoluseps nilgiriensis is currently considered a vulnerable species as there are potential threats from seasonal forest fires, housing constructions and brick kiln industries in the area.
  • Based on genetic studies, the team writes the new species is closely related to Subdoluseps pruthi that is found in parts of the Eastern Ghats.
  • The new species was found in a dry deciduous area, showing that even the dry zones of our country are home to unrealised skink diversity which needs to be further explored.

-Source: The Hindu

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