India’s reputation as a biodiversity-rich country is emphasized by recent discoveries of new species. In one such effort, a new species of rock-dwelling gecko has been described from the Meghamalai masiff in Tamil Nadu. The species is aptly named Hemidactylus vanam, in honor of a non-governmental organization, “VANAM”, based in Theni District Tamil Nadu, for carrying out exemplary conservation work in the region. The Meghamalai Rock Gecko, which is its suggested common name, is the first description of a reptile from this landscape since 1949. This is a large sized gecko, growing up to a total length of 12 centimetres is presently known only from the confines of the Meghamalai Wildlife Sanctuary in Tamil Nadu.
These geckos are mostly seen on rock boulders and are active chiefly during the night. They are occasionally seen on higher branches of trees surrounding rock boulders. Most geckos tend to lose their tails to escape predation or for self-defence but this new species seem to easily slough its skin as well.
The new species has similarities with the spotted rock gecko (Hemidactylus maculatus), which is endemic to the northern Western Ghats in Maharashtra and has been misidentified as such in the past. Detailed morphological observations coupled with DNA sequencing showed that these two geographically isolated populations are in fact distinct from each other.
The discovery and description of this species was a collaborative effort between R. Chaitanya, an independent researcher studying the amphibians and reptiles of Meghamalai Wildlife Sanctuary, , Aparna Lajmi (Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore ) and Dr. Varad Giri (National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru). These authors are grateful to Dr. Rajkumar of VANAM, Theni for enabling research in Meghamalai and the Tamil Nadu Forest Department for their support in granting permits to work in the region. The paper was published on Wednesday, 17th January 2018, in Zootaxa, a journal devoted to taxonomical research.
This new discovery highlights the importance of less explored habitats like the leeward escarpments of the Western Ghats.