BHUBANESWAR: A team of researchers has discovered a new species of gecko, commonly known as lizards, in a sacred grove near Humma in Ganjam district.The new species of Hemiphyllodactylus minimus is the smallest member of the genus with a maximum body size of little of over six cm. Although slender geckos are found at a higher altitude in hill forests, this is the first one from India which is found below 100 metre above mean sea level.
The researchers, including scientists from Jabalpur-based Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), Mumbai-based Thackeray Wildlife Foundation, Assam Don Bosco University and North Orissa University (NoU) have described about the new species in a recent publication in the international journal Zootaxa. The species was found in a tiny area of 0.01 sq km comprising around 20 large trees surrounding a temple. The area is part of a flat-top hillock dominated by scrub forest and is within 15 km of the sea coast and Chilika lake.
Remembering the first encounter of the species Dr Pratyush Mohapatra, the then lecturer of Chatrapur Government Science College located the tiny gecko on Jhadeshwar temple premises. The species was studied for a period of three years in the sacred grove and details about population, life history and behaviour of this species was documented.
“The species is now spotted on mango trees in the locality and unlike other members of the Eastern Ghats clade of Hemiphyllodactylus, the species was never encountered on concrete walls or below rock boulders. Despite targeted searches for the species in similar micro-habitats in the hills surrounding and further away from the type locality, no other sub-populations have been found,” said Mohapatra, now Scientist-D at the ZSI. The researchers have suggested its common English name as Ganjam slender gecko. The species feeds on ants, termites, small roaches, spiders and beetles. Apart from this, Jhadeshwar sacred grove is also home for 40 species of reptiles and 15 species of amphibians.
“Since the locality is under modification due to anthropogenic activities and facing constant anthropogenic pressure in terms of beautification of the temple and tourist activities, we fear the species may go extinct if proper care is not taken. We will soon have a discussion with the local forest officials to preserve the trees and the surroundings,” said Mohapatra.
The new gecko is the seventh Indian species of the genus, second from the northern Eastern Ghats and the 41st globally. Interestingly, the Ganjam slender gecko is the first non-island species of the genus that is distributed in lowland habitats, and the lowest elevation.