SAY HELLO

TO STUN­NING NEW SPECIES JUST DIS­COV­ERED

Down to Earth - - FRONT PAGE - JI­GYASA WATWANI SNIGDHA DAS CHAI­TANYA CHANDAN

IN THE mid-18th cen­tury, when Swedish botanist Carl Lin­naeus es­tab­lished the mod­ern sys­tem of clas­si­fy­ing all or­gan­isms known to the hu­man be­ing, he be­lieved that the bound­aries of life were just around the cor­ner; there would be hardly 10,000 plant species in the world, he used to say. But 260 years later, and af­ter iden­ti­fy­ing 17 mil­lion species of plants, an­i­mals, fungi and mi­crobes sci­en­tists are nowhere close to know­ing the ba­sic kinds of or­gan­isms, let alone un­der­stand­ing them or nam­ing them. Worse, they do not even know how much is left to dis­cover.

Prob­a­bly, this is the rea­son ev­ery year bio­di­ver­sity en­thu­si­asts and some de­ter­mined, even ob­sessed, sci­en­tists from across the world scan un­known ter­rains, from the most in­hos­pitable of places to deep seabeds, and comb through a bil­lion mu­seum col­lec­tions and fos­sils to look for new species. And when they stum­ble upon one—be it a bizarre-look­ing an­i­mal, an unimag­in­ably small in­sect or a plant from the Juras­sic era—na­tional and in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tutes and sci­en­tific jour­nals pub­lish the find­ing with great en­thu­si­asm, and add it to the in­ven­tory of liv­ing species and fos­sils.

In 2015, In­dia added 523 new liv­ing species to this ever-ex­pand­ing in­ven­tory. Ac­cord­ing to the doc­u­men­ta­tions re­leased by the coun­try’s two premier in­sti­tutes en­gaged in the ex­plo­ration of flora and fauna—the Zoo­log­i­cal Sur­vey of In­dia

( ZSI) and the Botan­i­cal Sur­vey of In­dia ( BSI)— and non-profit World Wide Fund for Na­ture ( WWF), sci­en­tists and tax­onomists have iden­ti­fied 246 an­i­mal species and 277 plant species in 2014.

Seed plants (118) have ac­counted for more than 40 per cent of the new plant species dis­cov­ered. And as ev­ery year, in­sects (119) have out­num­bered other groups of an­i­mals (see ‘523 rea­sons to feel happy’, p21). The list, how­ever, does not in­clude any species of mam­mal.

“We have a fair idea about the ab­so­lute di­ver­sity of mam­mals as well as birds,” says K C Gopi, sci­en­tist at zsi. That is why dis­cov­ery of new mam­mal species is touted as the dis­cov­ery of the decade, or even the cen­tury. On the other hand, in­sects are hardly well-doc­u­mented be­cause of their small size, and we dis­cover hun­dreds of them ev­ery year, Gopi ex­plains.

At least 185 of the new an­i­mal species re­ported last year are new dis­cov­er­ies, or new to sci­ence; and 61 are new records, mean­ing spot­ted for the first time in In­dia. Sim­i­larly, of the 249 plant species re­ported by ZSI alone, 148 are new dis­cov­er­ies and 101 new records.

In ei­ther case, new species are sig­nif­i­cant as they in­di­cate the rich­ness of In­dia’s bio­di­ver­sity. Kailash Chan­dra, di­rec­tor-in-charge of ZSI, says In­dia is one of the 17 megadi­verse coun­tries, en­com­pass­ing four bio­di­ver­sity hot spots—the

Hi­malayas, the Western Ghats, the north­east­ern re­gion and the Ni­co­bar is­lands.

Ev­ery year, as ZSI and BSI carry out nearly 100 coun­try­wide ex­pe­di­tions, th­ese re­gions spring the max­i­mum num­ber of sur­prises, par­tic­u­larly re­lated to plant species. In fact, th­ese are among the 37 most bio­di­verse re­gions in the world.

In 2014, the Western Ghats, which has re­cently been ac­corded the World her­itage sta­tus by Unesco, ac­counted for the max­i­mum—22 per cent—num­ber of plant dis­cov­er­ies; 15 per cent of the new plant species were found each in the East­ern Hi­malayas and the north­east­ern re­gion; 11 per cent in the An­daman and Ni­co­bar Is­lands; and 9 per cent in the Western Hi­malayas.

Dis­cov­ery of new species helps us bet­ter un­der­stand the ecosys­tem, says Shekhar Mo­hite, se­nior re­searcher at the Bio­di­ver­sity Re­search and Con­ser­va­tion Foun­da­tion, an en­vi­ron­men­tal non-profit in Ahmed­abad. “As we find out where th­ese species live and how they in­ter­act with the ecosys­tem, it helps us de­sign ef­fec­tive con­ser­va­tion mea­sures. Their unique at­tributes also help ex­pand our knowl­edge about the ori­gin and evo­lu­tion­ary his­tory of life on earth,” says Mo­hite.

Though all species are sig­nif­i­cant in their own ways, some as­sume greater im­por­tance to hu­mans ow­ing to their eco­nomic or or­na­men­tal sig­nif­i­cance, or abil­ity to boost bio­di­ver­sity re­search. For in­stance, the dis­cov­ery of dif­fer­ent species of ce­re­als and pulses in the wild led sci­en­tists to in­ter­breed them and gen­er­ate dis­ease-re­sis­tant va­ri­eties. Th­ese va­ri­eties were then do­mes­ti­cated, cul­ti­vated and used for con­sump­tion or medic­i­nal pur­poses.

“You never know how a new species and its vari­ants can be used,” says Y V Jhala, sci­en­tist at the Wildlife In­sti­tute of In­dia, Dehradun.

Take the case of Thrips parvispi­nus— a pest recorded for the first time in In­dia in Au­gust 2015. Ear­lier, it was recorded in­fect­ing pa­paya plants in Hawaii, gar­de­nia plants in Greece, and chilli, green beans, potato and brin­jal in other coun­tries. “The iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of a pest is the first step which un­locks the bar­ri­ers for fur­ther re­search in plan­ning ap­pro­pri­ate man­age­ment strate­gies for the pest in­volved,” notes a pa­per that re­ported about T parvispi­nus in Jour­nal of In­sect Sci­ence.

Un­for­tu­nately, young re­searchers are los­ing in­ter­est in tax­on­omy, which deals with the sci­ence of iden­ti­fy­ing, clas­si­fy­ing and nam­ing new species. Since dis­cov­er­ing new species is an ar­du­ous task, they are more in­ter­ested in species al­ready dis­cov­ered, says Mo­hite.

And the re­sult is ev­i­dent. There has been a de­cline in the size of new dis­cov­er­ies and records. In 2013, ZSI and BSI doc­u­mented 302 new an­i­mal species and 347 new plant species. In 2014, the num­bers were down to 237 fauna and 275 flora. Sim­i­larly, be­tween 1998 and 2008,

WWF dis­cov­ered 354 new species in the East­ern Hi­malayas. It dis­cov­ered only 211 new species over the next five years.

But sci­en­tists of ZSI and BSI are hope­ful. Though the size of find­ings was small last year, the list in­cludes species that are sig­nif­i­cant in terms of ecol­ogy and econ­omy. One such species is a palm-like plant, Cycas

sainathii, which sci­en­tists have re­garded as liv­ing fos­sil from the di­nosaur era (see p42). An­other is a shade tree, Glo­chio­dion tiru­pathiense, which sci­en­tists have dis­cov­ered not from a less vis­ited site but from the pil­grim­age site of Tiru­mala hills, on the way to Ku­maradara Pusu­padara Dam (see p41). How­ever, they could lo­cate only a few plants of the species. Then there are fresh­wa­ter crabs ( Gha­tiana au­ran­ti­aca and Gu­ber­na­to­ri­ana tri­an­gu­lus)

that are con­sid­ered eco­log­i­cally and eco­nom­i­cally im­por­tant. Both the crabs play a sig­nif­i­cant role in main­tain­ing the nu­tri­ent cy­cle of wa­ter and act as an in­ter­me­di­ate link in the food chain of nat­u­ral habi­tat. They prey upon small aquatic or­gan­isms, and, at the same time, are pre­dated by birds and mam­mals. Lo­cal tribal com­mu­ni­ties are known to rel­ish th­ese crabs, and hence they can be con­sid­ered as a fish­ery wealth (see p30). The new find­ings also in­clude nine new species of wild ba­nanas (see p38) and 10 species of or­chids (see p40).

Down To Earth roped in the coun­try’s top sci­en­tists, who su­per­vised th­ese in­cred­i­ble dis­cov­er­ies, to share their ex­pe­ri­ences of eco­log­i­cal in­cur­sions. The mag­a­zine got ac­cess to the in­sti­tu­tions’ com­plete data on species dis­cov­ered dur­ing 2014-15, and the au­thors spent hours with the sci­en­tists to make sense of the new dis­cov­er­ies. As th­ese au­thors pored over heaps of files on new species, they dis­cov­ered a fas­ci­nat­ing new world. In the next 22 pages Down To Earth pro­files a se­lect group of new plant and an­i­mal species.

Lark comes home

GREATER SHORT-TOED LARK

Ca­lan­drella brachy­dactyla dukhunen­sis

RE­PORTED BY: S Ra­jesh Ku­mar and C Raghunathan from Zoo­log­i­cal Sur­vey of In­dia (ZSI), Port Blair; G Ma­h­eswaran and K Venkatara­man from ZSI, Kolkata

LO­CA­TION OF FIND­ING: Land­fall Is­land Wildlife Sanc­tu­ary, An­daman and Ni­co­bar Is­lands

One win­ter af­ter­noon, a sci­en­tist with

ZSI was tak­ing a stroll on the seashore of Land­fill Is­land Wildlife Sanc­tu­ary, one of In­dia’s en­demic bird ar­eas. He sud­denly spot­ted a spar­row-like bird ac­tively for­ag­ing in the sand; it walked quickly and spo­rad­i­cally picked up items from the ground. The sci­en­tist could not iden­tify it im­me­di­ately, but was able to

take sev­eral pho­to­graphs. Later re­view showed that the bird had fine streaks on its fore­head, its bill was pale pink­ish, cylin­dri­cal and shorter, and un­der­parts were white. The fea­tures sug­gested that it is the east­ern race of the greater short-toed lark. The bird, Ca­lan­drella brachy­dactyla dukhunen­sis, is not new to or­nithol­o­gists. It has an ex­tremely large range, and breeds across south­ern Europe, North Africa, Turkey, south­ern Rus­sia and Mon­go­lia. As win­ter ap­proaches, the race dukhunen­sis mi­grates in compact flocks south­wards. This is for the first time the bird has been recorded from the An­daman and Ni­co­bar is­lands. Based on old records of dukhunen­sis from south­ern Myan­mar, sci­en­tists say the bird might have ar­rived on the An­damans via Myan­mar.

Last guard of a singer's fam­ily

SPOT­TED WREN-BAB­BLER Elachura for­mosa DIS­COV­ERED BY: Per Al­strom from Swedish Univer­sity of Agri­cul­tural Sci­ences, Upp­sala LO­CA­TION OF FIND­ING: Arunachal Pradesh

It looks like any other song­bird—wrens and wren-bab­blers—and is so shy that it re­mains hid­den in dense forests through­out the moun­tains of east­ern Hi­malayas and south­east China. This is the rea­son, or­nithol­o­gists had for decades thought it was a variant of wren-bab­bler and clubbed it un­der the genus Spelae­or­nis and named it Sfor­mo­sus. They re­alised its dis­tinct iden­tity in 2014 while study­ing evo­lu­tion­ary his­tory of Asian song­birds us­ing a com­put­er­en­abled tech­nol­ogy that analy­ses large

dna data sets to re­con­struct fam­ily trees. The data shows that spot­ted wren-bab­bler is nei­ther a wren nor a wren-bab­bler. In fact, it has no close liv­ing rel­a­tives at all. Fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tions showed that the bird has dis­tinct mor­pho­log­i­cal fea­tures and vo­cal­i­sa­tion pat­terns. It mea­sures about 10 cm and has a short tail. It is brown above, white below, with ru­fous wings. It has white speck­les all over its body and black stripes on its wings and tail. Dur­ing breed­ing sea­son, the males sing their char­ac­ter­is­tic, high-pitched song, which does not re­sem­ble any other con­ti­nen­tal Asian bird song. The re­searchers con­cluded that the spot­ted wren-bab­bler is the sole rep­re­sen­ta­tive of a unique avian fam­ily that is the ear­li­est sur­viv­ing evo­lu­tion­ary off­shoot in perch­ing birds, and named it Elachu­rafor­mosa.

Fluke en­counter

PAR­A­SITIC FLAT­WORM

Gor­goderi­nas pi­nosa

DIS­COV­ERED BY: Charles R Bursey from Penn­syl­va­nia State Univer­sity, USA; An­jum N Rizvi and Pal­lab Maity from ZSI, Ut­tarak­hand

LO­CA­TION OF FIND­ING: Budhna vil­lage, Dehradun, Ut­tarak­hand It came to no­tice dur­ing a rou­tine study of par­a­sitic worms in a frog, Euphlyc­tis

cyanophlyc­tis, in Dehradun. The frog is com­mon across east­ern and north­east­ern In­dia and other neigh­bour­ing coun­tries. Sci­en­tists found one frog har­bour­ing four in­di­vid­u­als of an un­de­scribed species of a par­a­sitic flat­worm, Gor­gode­rina. They iso­lated the par­a­site from its uri­nary blad­der and named it Gspinosa be­cause of the spiny cov­er­ing on its body and its dis­tinct mor­phol­ogy of vitelline glands that pro­duce yolk cells. With the dis­cov­ery of G spinosa, In­dian am­phib­ians are now host to six of the 55

Gor­gode­rina species found world­wide. The par­a­site is known to have a com­plex life cy­cle, in­volv­ing sev­eral hosts, right from mol­lusks to am­phib­ians. It usu­ally in­fects a frog when the lat­ter in­gests an in­fected or­gan­ism. The par­a­site quickly in­vades its kid­neys and blad­der and kills it within a few days. It is feared that with land­scape al­ter­ations, the par­a­site may change its trans­mis­sion pat­tern and in­fect hu­mans.

The new wa­ter sentinel

POND SKATER Amem­boa bi­fur­cata

DIS­COV­ERED BY: Sri­moyee Basu and K A Subra­ma­nian from ZSI, Kolkata; Dan A Pol­he­mus from Ber­nice Pauahi Bishop Mu­seum, USA

LO­CA­TION OF FIND­ING: Ka­likhola, Jal­paig­uri district, West Ben­gal

Though ex­tremely small, pond skaters or wa­ter bugs have con­stantly at­tracted the at­ten­tion of sci­en­tists for their unique abil­ity to walk on wa­ter while stay­ing com­pletely dry. So far, sci­en­tists have iden­ti­fied more than 1,700 species of this fam­ily, Ger­ri­dae. Re­cently, they have iden­ti­fied one more in Jal­paigudi. Named Amem­boa bi­fur­cata, it is small, oval-shaped and can be eas­ily iden­ti­fied by the sil­very mark­ings on the dor­sal sur­face of the body. Un­like other Ger­ri­dae species whose front legs are shorter and middle and hind legs are elon­gated, the hind legs of A bi­fur­cata are rel­a­tively shorter than its middle legs.

Un­der­stand­ing Ger­ri­dae in­sects is im­por­tant as they re­flect the con­cen­tra­tion of con­tam­i­nants in their aquatic habi­tat. Pond skaters have the abil­ity to ac­cu­mu­late high mer­cury lev­els. Due to their ubiq­uity, long life span and preda­tory na­ture, sci­en­tists of­ten an­a­lyse their body to mea­sure mer­cury build-up in aquatic food chains.

Of a dif­fer­ent hue

A TYPE OF MOTH Capissa alba

DIS­COV­ERED BY: Jag­bir Singh Kirti and Rahul Joshi from Pun­jabi Univer­sity, Pa­tiala; Navneet Singh from ZSI, Patna

LO­CA­TION OF FIND­ING: Pat­ni­top, Jammu and Kash­mir When sci­en­tists spot­ted the moth in Pat­ni­top, a hill­top tourist lo­ca­tion in the Si­wa­lik belt of the Hi­malayas, they could eas­ily no­tice its dis­tinc­tive fea­tures. It dif­fers from other moths due to creamish white wings and tri­an­gu­lar lower body. Un­der­stand­ing the di­ver­sity of moth species and the den­sity of their pop­u­la­tions is im­por­tant as this noc­tur­nal in­sect acts as a sig­nif­i­cant link in the food chain as a prey or­gan­ism, and in­nu­mer­able birds, ro­dents and bats pre­date on them. They are in­di­ca­tors of the health of an ecosys­tem as they sym­bol­ise the bio­di­ver­sity rich­ness.

Star­ing from the web

JUMP­ING SPI­DER Evar­cha flav­ocinta

RE­PORTED BY: Tapan Ku­mar Roy, Dhruba Chan­dra Dhali and Di­nen­dra Ray­choud­hury from Univer­sity of Cal­cutta, Kolkata; Su­mana Saha from Dar­jeel­ing Govern­ment Col­lege, West Ben­gal

LO­CA­TION OF FIND­ING: Jal­da­para Wildlife Sanc­tu­ary, Nepucha­pur Tea Es­tate and Kailash­pur Tea Es­tate, Jal­paig­uri district, West Ben­gal The species be­longs to a fam­ily Salti­ci­dae, which is rep­re­sented by 207 species. Sci­en­tists spot­ted the spi­der while sur­vey­ing the tea ecosys­tem of Dooars and its ad­join­ing re­serve forests. The re­mark­able fea­ture of the spi­der, which ac­tively hunts its prey rather than trap­ping it in webs, is its four pair of eyes that are ar­ranged in three trans­verse rows. The an­tero­lat­eral (first row) eyes are sur­rounded by horn-like tuft of long, stiff, slightly curved bris­tles.

Tale of a farmer's in­sect

A SPRING­TAIL En­to­mo­brya diskiten­sis

DIS­COV­ERED BY: En­rique Baquero and and Rafael Jor­dana from Univer­sity of Navarra, Spain; Gu­ru­pada Man­dal from ZSI, Kolkata

LO­CA­TION OF FIND­ING: Ganglatok vil­lage, Diskit district, Ladakh, Jammu and Kash­mir It is one of the seven wing­less in­sects, com­monly called spring­tails, that sci­en­tists had found dur­ing a trip in 2008 to Ladakh as part of the Cold Desert Ex­pe­di­tion of zsi. The sci­en­tists had found the species in the leaf lit­ter of agri­cul­tural prod­ucts in one of the lo­cal­i­ties in Ladakh.

With eight eyes and a length of 2.6 mm, ex­clud­ing an­ten­nae,

E diskiten­sis is typ­i­cally pale yel­low. Its dor­sal body is cov­ered with lat­eral vi­o­let-blue ir­reg­u­lar lines. Like sev­eral other spring­tails, E diskiten­sis is ben­e­fi­cial for agri­cul­ture. Be­ing a lit­ter dweller, it is re­spon­si­ble for the con­trol and dis­sem­i­na­tion of or­ganic mat­ter and micro­organ­isms in the soil.

An­nounc­ing pres­ence

FASCIOLARIID SNAIL Gran­uli­fusus poppei

RE­PORTED BY: Ravnish R, A Biju Ku­mar and K V Dha­neesh from Univer­sity of Ker­ala; K Preetha from Chris­tian Col­lege, Ker­ala; S Ge­orge from Ra­jeev Gandhi Cen­tre for Biotech­nol­ogy, Thiru­vanan­tha­pu­ram

LO­CA­TION OF FIND­ING: Ker­ala coast Though ex­act range of ge­o­graph­i­cal dis­tri­bu­tion of this species of sea snail is not known, it had never been recorded from the In­dian coast be­fore. In 2013 three spec­i­mens of Gpoppei were col­lected by bot­tom trawlers at an av­er­age depth of 100 m off the Ker­ala coast. dna anal­y­sis con­firmed that the shell, which is whitish to light brown in colour, is of Gpoppei.

Friendly par­a­site

BEE-LIKE IN­SECT Mischote­trastichus keralen­sis

DIS­COV­ERED BY: T C Naren­dran, C Bi­joy and K Ra­j­mo­hana from ZSI, Ker­ala

LO­CA­TION OF FIND­ING: Man­na­van­shola, Idukki district, Ker­ala

Hy­menoptera is the third largest or­der of in­sects and com­prises wasps, bees and ants that may be par­a­sitic, car­niv­o­rous, phy­tophagous or om­niv­o­rous. The re­cently dis­cov­ered Mischote­trastichus keralen­sis is a Hy­menopteran par­a­site. It acts as an im­por­tant bi­o­log­i­cal con­trol agent as it feeds on in­sect pests, such as par­a­sitic wood wasps that at­tack wood-bor­ing bee­tles; and a va­ri­ety of wasps that par­a­sitise many moths, but­ter­flies, wood-bor­ing bee­tles, sev­eral crop pests, orchard pests and scale in­sects.

Hid­den in trees

TREE BARK-DWELLING SPI­DER Her­silia aadi

DIS­COV­ERED BY: G B Prava­likha, Chel­mala Srinivasulu and Bhar­gavi Srinivasulu from Univer­sity Col­lege of Sci­ence, Os­ma­nia Univer­sity, Hyderabad

LO­CA­TION OF FIND­ING: Os­ma­nia Univer­sity, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh

Species of genus Her­silia are typ­i­cally long-legged, medium-sized spi­ders. They are com­monly found on tree trunks, and are known as bark spi­ders or two-tailed spi­ders. Though first iden­ti­fied in 1820 and is known to be present across Asian and African trop­i­cal re­gions, only six species of Her­silia are known to sci­en­tists. Re­cently sci­en­tists have spot­ted an­other species, Her­silia aadi, on the bark of neem ( Azadirachta indica) and Polyalthia cera­soides trees in the Os­ma­nia Univer­sity cam­pus, Hyderabad. The sci­en­tists say the species di­ver­sity in the fam­ily Her­sili­idae is un­der­rep­re­sented and fu­ture re­search can re­sult in the dis­cov­ery of more species.

Ser­pen­tine fish

RAY-FINNED FISH Aborichthys cataracta

RE­PORTED BY: M Arunacha­lam, M Raja, P Mala­iammal and R L May­den from Manon­ma­niam Sun­dara­nar Univer­sity, Tamil Nadu

LO­CA­TION OF FIND­ING: Hong vil­lage, Up­per Suban­shri district, Arunachal Pradesh

The genus Aborichthys was first de­scribed in 1913 based on spec­i­mens in streams and rivers of Abor hills in north­east­ern In­dia. The type species was de­scribed as

Aborichthys kempi. Since then, five ad­di­tional species have been added to the genus from north­east­ern In­dia, with the lat­est be­ing

Acataracta. Sci­en­tists found it in a small creek near a wa­ter­fall in Up­per Suban­shri district. This ser­pen­tine-shaped fish grows up to 9. 3 cm and has elon­gated snout. Its cau­dal fin (tail) is round and wide; dor­sal fin has nine rays and the anal fin has six rays. Fe­males are larger than males. Its sand­coloured body is cov­ered with thin wavy stripes.

It's a genus

FRESH­WA­TER CRAB

Gha­tiana au­ran­ti­aca

DIS­COV­ERED BY: S K Pati and R M Sharma from ZSI, Pune

LO­CA­TION OF FIND­ING: Phansad Wildlife Sanc­tu­ary, Raigad district, Maharashtra

One mon­soon, when peo­ple liv­ing in the vicin­ity of the Phansad wildlife sanc­tu­ary spot­ted small or­ange-red crabs, they thought it was an in­va­sive species from Aus­tralia. When ZSI sci­en­tists in­ves­ti­gated the claims, they dis­cov­ered that the truth was more fas­ci­nat­ing than the story the lo­cals re­it­er­ated. A closer look at the crus­tacean re­vealed that not only was it a species that had not been recorded so far, but also its char­ac­ter­is­tics were so dis­tinct that it could not be clas­si­fied un­der any of the ex­ist­ing gen­era of crabs. It was a species from a new genus. Since the crab was found in the Western Ghats, the sci­en­tists named the genus Gha­tiana and the species Gha­tiana

au­ran­ti­aca af­ter its red-or­ange colour. Lo­cat­ing the crabs is dif­fi­cult as the species is usu­ally ac­tive dur­ing the rainy sea­son and at night. Most of the time they crawl into crevices of rocks and tree trunks or re­main hid­den in bur­rows near streams.

Sci­en­tists say the newly de­scribed crab is both eco­log­i­cally and eco­nom­i­cally im­por­tant, as it plays a sig­nif­i­cant role in nu­tri­ent cy­cle and wa­ter qual­ity mon­i­tor­ing. They also play the role of an in­ter­me­di­ate link in the food chain of nat­u­ral habi­tat; they prey upon small aquatic or­gan­isms, and, at the same time, are pre­dated by birds and mam­mals.

Small and shy

FRESH­WA­TER CRAB Gu­ber­na­to­ri­ana tri­an­gu­lus

DIS­COV­ERED BY: S K Pati and R M Sharma from ZSI, Pune

LO­CA­TION OF FIND­ING: Ma­ha­balesh­war, Satara district; Bhi­mashankar Wildlife Sanc­tu­ary and Tamhini Ghat, Pune district, Maharashtra

Mea­sur­ing less than 2 cen­time­tres, this tiny crab’s unique fea­tures are its smooth, squar­ish and brown cara­pace (chiti­nous case cov­er­ing its back) and a tri­an­gu­lar sub­ter­mi­nal seg­ment of male gono­pod (spe­cialised ap­pendages mod­i­fied for re­pro­duc­tion). So far, the species has been found only in the Western Ghats. They are ac­tive mainly dur­ing rainy sea­son (June to Septem­ber) and usu­ally dwell un­der small stones along stream banks. Lo­cal tribal com­mu­ni­ties eat it. The find­ing is im­por­tant be­cause the Western Ghats re­mains largely un­der-ex­plored for crus­tacean species. In fact, a large num­ber of fresh­wa­ter shrimps and crabs in the re­gion are in dan­ger of be­com­ing ex­tinct due to in­creas­ing hu­man ac­tiv­ity in their habi­tat and ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties in their clas­si­fi­ca­tion and doc­u­men­ta­tion.

A vo­ra­cious co­ral A TYPE OF CO­RAL Ne­male­cium lighti

RECORDED BY: Pooja Na­gale and Deepak Apte from Bom­bay Nat­u­ral His­tory So­ci­ety, Mum­bai

LO­CA­TION OF FIND­ING: Poshi­tra, Gu­jarat The co­ral is quite com­mon in trop­i­cal shal­low wa­ters. But this is for the first time the species has been recorded in the In­dian wa­ters. In fact, this is for the first time sci­en­tists have recorded any

Ne­male­cium species from In­dian wa­ters. They found N lighti in Poshi­tra, a rel­a­tively pris­tine co­ral reef flat in the Gulf of Kachchh. This live hard co­ral is present in erect colonies, both branched and un­branched. Its unique fea­ture is its large and elon­gated polyps, armed with ne­ma­to­cysts, which help the co­ral feed on a va­ri­ety of small or­gan­isms. The species is also known for its fast growth and high pro­duc­tion rate.

A lizard from the old world

LEOP­ARD GECKO Euble­pharis sat­pu­raen­sis

DIS­COV­ERED BY: Zee­shan Mirza and Ra­jesh Sanap from Na­tional Cen­tre for Bi­o­log­i­cal Sci­ences, Ben­galuru

LO­CA­TION OF FIND­ING: Pach­marhi, Sat­pura Tiger Re­serve, Mad­hya Pradesh; Popatkhed, Amar­a­vathi, Maharashtra

It is be­lieved that the lin­eage that gave rise to the genus Euble­pharis, com­monly called leop­ard geckos, evolved in Asian forests some 100 mil­lion years ago and likely in­vaded In­dia af­ter the ac­cre­tion of the In­dian plate to main­land Eura­sia. This old world lizard is by far one of the least stud­ied lizards in In­dia, and so far only three species have been iden­ti­fied. Sci­en­tists found the new gecko species while study­ing am­phib­ians in the Sat­pura Hills. They com­pared the col­lected spec­i­mens with mu­seum ma­te­rial and con­cluded that it be­longs to a new species. They named it E sat­pu­raen­sis af­ter the re­gion where it was found. Since the species is noc­tur­nal and se­cre­tive in na­ture, very few peo­ple in the lo­cal­ity were aware of it. The new species of Euble­pharis from In­dia high­lights the need for ded­i­cated her­peto­fau­nal sur­veys across the coun­try and es­pe­cially in the Sat­pura Hills, known for rich bio­di­ver­sity.

Pur­ple sur­prise PUR­PLE-SPOT­TED SEA SLUG Chro­modoris as­persa

Recorded by: Deepak Apte and A Vishal Bhave from Bom­bay Nat­u­ral His­tory So­ci­ety, Mum­bai

LO­CA­TION OF FIND­ING: Kavaratti, Lak­shad­weep

This white sea slug with deep vi­o­let spots on its body can be eas­ily spot­ted across the Indo-Pa­cific re­gion that com­prises the trop­i­cal wa­ters of the In­dian Ocean, the western and cen­tral Pa­cific Ocean, and seas con­nect­ing the two. But this is for the first time sci­en­tists have spot­ted it in the In­dian wa­ters. They spot­ted it hid­ing un­der dead co­ral boul­ders in the Lak­shad­weep ar­chi­pel­ago dur­ing low tides. Mea­sur­ing 16-33 mm, all the spec­i­mens were mid-sized, which are rarely seen. The find­ing un­der­scores the need for more in­ten­sive sur­veys around the ar­chi­pel­ago.

Spot­ted, but not in the wild

THE HOUSE GECKO Hemi­dacty­lus acan­thopho­lis

DIS­COV­ERED BY: Zee­shan Mirza and Ra­jesh Sanap from Na­tional Cen­tre for Bi­o­log­i­cal Sci­ences, Ben­galuru

LO­CA­TION OF FIND­ING: Thirunelveli, Tamil Nadu

This large rock-dwelling species is mostly found on large boul­ders, caves and forts and is said to be spread across the Western Ghats. But her­petol­o­gists Mirza and Sanap did not dis­cover the species in the fields, but in a col­lec­tion at the Na­tional His­tory Mu­seum in Lon­don. They com­pared it with other known species at that mu­seum as well as at the Cal­i­for­nia Academy of Sci­ences in San Fran­cisco; the Bom­bay Nat­u­ral His­tory So­ci­ety in Mum­bai; and zsi, Kolkata; and found that the species is in­deed dis­tinct. They named it

Hemi­dacty­lus acan­thopho­lis due to the large warty out­growths on its back. It grows up to a length of 20-23 cm and sports a brown shade with dark un­du­lat­ing bands on its back.

Lit­tle danc­ing fighter DANC­ING FROG Mi­crix­alus kurichi­yari

Dis­cov­ered by: Sathyab­hama Das Biju from Univer­sity of Delhi

LO­CA­TION OF FIND­ING: Kurichi­yarmala, Wayanad district, Ker­ala

It be­longs to a genus, Mi­crix­alus, that has been hop­ping about since the time when di­nosaurs roamed on earth. Sci­en­tists spot­ted an am­phib­ian be­long­ing to this an­cient genus fol­low­ing a decade-long search across the Western Ghats. Its small size—mea­sur­ing 13 to 35 mm long, M kurichi­yari is no big­ger than a bee—and the colour of its skin that acts as a per­fect cam­ou­flage makes it more dif­fi­cult to spot. Fol­low­ing the an­nual mon­soon, when rain­for­est streams reach the ideal level for breed­ing, it is rel­a­tively easy to find th­ese frogs. Males can be found call­ing from sur­face of wet rocks, usu­ally near falls and splash zones of small, fast-flow­ing streams, with their no­tice­able flashy white vo­cal sacs. Dur­ing the breed­ing sea­son, both male and fe­male species are seen stretch­ing their hind legs away from the body and wav­ing a fully ex­tended webbed foot. While this re­sem­bles a danc­ing pose, sci­en­tists have ob­served that the frog uses the move to mark its ter­ri­tory and kick any in­truder. Fe­male danc­ing frogs also show sim­i­lar be­hav­iour when it comes to lay­ing eggs.

Hop­ping all the way

AM­BOLI LEAP­ING FROG Indi­rana chi­ravasi

DIS­COV­ERED BY: Anand D Pad­hye and Nikhil Mo­dak from Abasa­heb Gar­ware Col­lege, and Nee­lesh Da­hanukar from the In­dian In­sti­tute of Sci­ence Education and Re­search, in Maharashtra

LO­CA­TION OF FIND­ING: Am­boli, Sind­hudurg district, Maharashtra

This new species was spot­ted while sci­en­tists were study­ing the di­ver­sity and dis­tri­bu­tion of species un­der the genus Indi­rana in the Western Ghats re­gion of Maharashtra. Called leap­ing frog, or Indi­rana chi­ravasi, its unique fea­tures in­clude its longer head and sin­gle in­ter­nal vo­cal sac.

The species is of­ten found in the crevices of the la­t­erite boul­ders. The skin colour of male I chi­ravasi changes from grey to brown and olive brown with scat­tered yel­low mark­ings. This helps them merge into their sur­round­ing en­vi­ron­ment, which is usu­ally wet rocks or boul­ders cov­ered with mosses. Males are mostly seen while call­ing from th­ese mossy rocks. Fe­males, how­ever, re­main in groups un­der logs in the for­est or un­der road­side stones. They lay eggs un­der the mosses on la­t­eritic wet rocks and boul­ders. Un­like other am­phib­ians, un­hatched eggs show the em­bryos with ex­ter­nal gills and hatch­lings re­main at the egg lay­ing site. In fact, em­bryos, hatch­lings and tad­poles of two dif­fer­ent stages are ob­served in the same habi­tat and tad­poles are seen feed­ing on al­gal mat­ter on wet boul­ders.

It is the 11th species of Indi­rana found in the Western Ghats. Since th­ese species are highly threat­ened, sci­en­tists call for ur­gent stud­ies to un­der­stand their dis­tri­bu­tion pat­terns. Ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion on ecol­ogy and nat­u­ral his­tory would help de­sign con­ser­va­tion mea­sures to save the species.

Hid­ing in In­dia

MARINE GAS­TRO­POD MOL­LUSK Elysia rufescens

Re­ported by: Deepak Apte and A Vishal Bhave from Bom­bay Nat­u­ral His­tory So­ci­ety, Mum­bai

LO­CA­TION OF FIND­ING: Kavaratti, Lak­shad­weep

Though com­mon in shal­low ex­posed reef ar­eas of Myan­mar, Guam, In­done­sia, Aus­tralia, Tahiti, Hawaii, South Africa, the Philip­pines, Samoa and Ja­pan, this is for the first time sci­en­tists have spot­ted the marine shell-less snail in western part of the In­dian Ocean. Rang­ing be­tween 20 mm and 40 mm, its skin is olive green in colour, pro­fusely mot­tled with white patches. Edge of its pa­rade has red band and egg case is white. Sci­en­tists found the species un­der dead co­ral boul­ders and shal­low pools from where they had col­lected 60 other species from the same group. This shows that the re­gion could be home to many more species than thought.

Stand­ing out

WILD BA­NANA Musa ar­gen­tii

DIS­COV­ERED BY: Ra­jib Gogoi and Souravjy­oti Bo­rah from Botan­i­cal Sur­vey of In­dia, Arunachal Pradesh Re­gional Cen­tre, Itanagar

LO­CA­TION OF FIND­ING: Lo­hit district, Arunachal Pradesh

Wild ba­nanas are na­tive to the hu­mid trop­i­cal forests that ex­tend from In­dia to the Pa­cific coun­tries. Un­like other crops, ba­nanas are dif­fi­cult to clas­sify as one can­not make a proper judge­ment about them from her­bar­ium spec­i­mens with­out liv­ing ma­te­rial; pre­par­ing voucher spec­i­mens is dif­fi­cult ow­ing to the large size of the plants; and dis­tin­guish­ing cul­ti­vars from the species is also dif­fi­cult. This is the rea­son, wild ba­nanas have not re­ceived suf­fi­cient at­ten­tion by sci­en­tists al­though north­east­ern In­dia is the fruit’s mi­cro­cen­tre of evo­lu­tion. Re­cently, sci­en­tists spot­ted a dif­fer­ent va­ri­ety of ba­nana in Lo­hit district. Based on its mor­pho­log­i­cal fea­tures, they de­clared it a new species and named it Musa ar­gen­tii in the hon­our of Ge­orge Ar­gent of Royal Botanic Gar­den Ed­in­burgh, who had de­scribed ba­nana fam­ily.

Long pedi­cel means more fruits

WILD BA­NANA Musa na­ga­lan­di­ana DIS­COV­ERED BY: Santanu Dey from Na­ga­land Univer­sity, Ko­hima, and Ra­jib Gogoi from BSI, Kolkata LO­CA­TION OF FIND­ING: Na­ga­land

Sci­en­tists spot­ted this species in trop­i­cal semi-ev­er­green for­est on the bank of the river Doyang in Zun­heboto district of Na­ga­land. Its unique fea­tures are: yel­low­ish-or­ange pseu­dostem with brown or black blotches; male bud that lifts many bracts at a time; much longer ovary in male flow­ers; and longer fruit­ing pedi­cel. The species has been named af­ter Na­ga­land, from where sci­en­tists col­lected it. Its dis­cov­ery sig­ni­fies the need for more re­search on ba­nana species in the north­east­ern In­dia, which is con­sid­ered the mi­cro­cen­tre of evo­lu­tion of ba­nana.

Try for its or­ange pulp

WILD BA­NANA Musa in­dan­damane­sis

DIS­COV­ERED BY: Lal Ji Singh from BSI, Port Blair

LO­CA­TION OF FIND­ING: An­daman and Ni­co­bar is­lands

Sci­en­tists dis­cov­ered the species in a re­mote trop­i­cal rain­for­est, Kr­ishna Nalah for­est, in the Lit­tle An­daman is­land. They de­scribe it as a dis­tinct global species with unique green flow­ers and fruit bunch lux (axis) thrice the size of a reg­u­lar ba­nana species. Un­like the other ba­nana species that have con­i­cal flow­ers, the flow­ers of

M in­dan­damane­sis are cylin­dri­cal. The fruit pulp is or­ange, ed­i­ble and very sweet. They named the species af­ter joint spell­ing of In­dia and the An­damans.

Rare and en­dan­gered

AN OR­NA­MEN­TAL PLANT Im­pa­tiens paramji­tiana

DIS­COV­ERED BY: Ra­jib Gogoi and Souravjy­oti Bo­rah from BSI, Itanagar

LO­CA­TION OF FIND­ING: Da­por­ijo, Along, West Siang district, Arunachal Pradesh

Sci­en­tists came across this species with deep pur­ple flow­ers and shiny vel­vety leaves ar­ranged in flo­ral shapes, dur­ing an ex­pe­di­tion to the Siang val­ley. They re­alised that the species falls in the fam­ily Im­pa­tiens but is yet to be de­scribed. They named it Im­pa­tiens paramji­tiana, giv­ing hon­our to Paramjit Singh, di­rec­tor of

bsi, for his con­tri­bu­tion to In­dian plant tax­on­omy. The sci­en­tists could find only 50 plants along the road side and saw that its habi­tat was dis­turbed heav­ily by ur­ban­i­sa­tion and agri­cul­ture. They say the species is “crit­i­cally en­dan­gered” as per the

iucn Red List cri­te­ria.

For­got­ten flower

A TYPE OF OR­CHID Eria gloen­sis

DIS­COV­ERED BY: Paul Ormerod from Aus­tralia and D K Agrawala from BSI, Sikkim

LO­CA­TION OF FIND­ING: Mishmi Hills, Kam­lang Val­ley, Arunachal Pradesh

It was a sheer ac­ci­dent. Sci­en­tists dis­cov­ered this species of or­chid ( Or­chi­daceae) among the ma­te­rial kept at the herbaria of Oakes Ames Or­chid Her­bar­ium, Har­vard Univer­sity, Cam­bridge, usa, while pre­par­ing a synop­sis of the Male­sian taxa of Cylin­drolobus, a plant species of the fam­ily Or­chi­daceae en­demic to the Philip­pines. The spec­i­men was orig­i­nally col­lected from the Mishmi Hills by Frank King­don Ward in 1949. Fol­low­ing crit­i­cal ob­ser­va­tion, the sci­en­tists found that the spec­i­men was an un­de­scribed species of Cylin­drolobus. Its flow­ers are cream coloured and ex­ter­nally pubescent.

How about a tem­ple name

SHADE TREE Glochid­ion tiru­pathiense

DIS­COV­ERED BY: Alok R Chorghe, L Rasingam, P V Prasanna and M Sankara Rao from BSI, Hyderabad

LO­CA­TION OF FIND­ING: Tiru­mala hills, Andhra Pradesh

It was right there, along the bank of a stream on Tiru­mala Hills, which is vis­ited by tens of thou­sands of pil­grims ev­ery day. But unique fea­tures of this shade tree re­mained un­no­ticed un­til a group of sci­en­tists vis­ited moist de­cid­u­ous forests on the hills. Known as Se­shacha­lam, the for­est is the first bio­sphere re­serve in Andhra Pradesh. They named the tree af­ter the lo­cal­ity, the fa­mous tem­ple town of Tiru­pathi. As per the iucn guide­lines, the species is data-de­fi­cient since only a few in­di­vid­u­als could be lo­cated.

Lone beauty

AN OR­CHID Habenaria nico­bar­ica DIS­COV­ERED BY: C Mu­ru­gan, Joju P Alap­patt from For­est Train­ing In­sti­tute, Port Blair; S Prabhu from BSI, Port Blair; and W Aris­da­son from BSI, Kolkata LO­CA­TION OF FIND­ING: Lit­tle Ni­co­bar Tribal Re­serve, Pu­lopaha, South Ni­co­bar, An­daman and Ni­co­bar Is­lands

The An­daman and Ni­co­bar Is­lands is a repos­i­tory of di­verse species, in­clud­ing 25 en­demic or­chid species. The genus

Habenaria is es­ti­mated to have about 750 species that are dis­trib­uted across the world. Of th­ese, 100 are recorded from In­dia and only one species, H an­daman­ica, from the An­daman and Ni­co­bar Is­lands. This is the rea­son the species has been named af­ter its place of col­lec­tion. Sci­en­tists came across the or­chid with light brown flow­ers dur­ing an ex­plo­ration in Great Ni­co­bar Bio­sphere Re­serve and Lit­tle Ni­co­bar Tribal Re­serve.

Gourd of con­fu­sion

A VA­RI­ETY OF GOURD Her­petosper­mum op­er­cu­la­tum

DIS­COV­ERED BY: K Prad­heep, A Pandey, K C Bhatt, E R Na­yar from the Na­tional Bureau of Plant Ge­netic Re­sources, Pusa Cam­pus, New Delhi

LO­CA­TION OF FIND­ING: South District of Sikkim, Phek district of Na­ga­land

Re­searchers came across this gourd va­ri­ety while on a sur­vey tour to Sikkim and Na­ga­land for germplasm col­lec­tion of cul­ti­vated cu­cum­bers and their wild rel­a­tives dur­ing 2011 and 2012. Though it su­per­fi­cially re­sem­bled a cu­cum­ber, Luffa

mill, it had strik­ingly dif­fer­ent flow­ers, fruit and seed anatomy. Be­sides, the climber had dis­tinct male and fe­male char­ac­ter­is­tics. The sci­en­tists com­pared its fea­tures with dig­i­tal im­ages in on­line herbaria world­wide, and found that sim­i­lar plants from Myan­mar and China were kept un­der the name Biswarea

ton­glen­sis and Her­petosper­mum pe­dun­cu­lo­sum. Though the sci­en­tists have

named it H op­er­cu­la­tum, they are yet to de­ter­mine its vul­ner­a­bil­ity due to con­fu­sion with two other species.

Lost in gar­den IN­DIAN CYCAS Cycas sainathii

DIS­COV­ERED BY: R C Sri­vas­tava from BSI, Kolkata

LO­CA­TION OF FIND­ING: Acharya Jagdish Chan­dra Bose In­dian Botanic Gar­den, Shibpur, Howrah

This is in­cred­u­lous. With dense fo­liage on top, the plant is quite big in girth size and height (3 m), and grows in a top botan­i­cal gar­den. Yet, it re­mained un­no­ticed by re­searchers. Botanist R C Sri­vas­tava stud­ied the spec­i­men closely and re­alised that it is a dif­fer­ent species of Cycas. He named it in hon­our of saint Sai Baba of Shirdi. He says it was prob­a­bly in­tro­duced from the An­daman and Ni­co­bar Is­lands long back but was never stud­ied closely. The dis­cov­ery is im­por­tant as Cycas hap­pen to be liv­ing fos­sils, ex­ist­ing since the days of di­nosaurs and have un­der­gone very lit­tle evo­lu­tion.

Won­der mushroom

A FUN­GUS Der­moloma keralense

DIS­COV­ERED BY: K Anil Raj, K P Deepna Latha, Rai­hana Param­ban and P Man­i­mo­han from Univer­sity of Cali­cut, Ker­ala

LO­CA­TION OF FIND­ING: Then­mala Shen­duruni For­est Divi­sion, Kol­lam district, Ker­ala

Sci­en­tists spot­ted the fun­gus in small groups among lit­ter on for­est floor. Mor­pho­log­i­cal fea­tures showed that the fungi is part of a small genus, Der­moloma, which has only 24 species world­wide. The sci­en­tists have named it af­ter the state where it was first ob­served. While most species of

Der­moloma are found in tem­per­ate re­gions, D keralense is the se­cond known fungi species found in the wet trop­i­cal cli­mate of Ker­ala. The other fungi,

D indicum, has been dis­cov­ered from the Peechi for­est in Ker­ala’s Thris­sur district. Both the species have dis­tinct fea­tures from all other pre­vi­ously re­ported species of the genus.

Jump­ing spi­der, found in the tea gar­dens of Dooars,

West Ben­gal

COUR­TESY:DEEPNREEF.COM

MIRZA AND SANAP

SATHYAB­HAMA DAS BIJU

ABHIJEET BAYANI

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