Deepak Veerappan was in-between research jobs when, out of boredom, he started exploring the parched open lands in the south and west of India. He ventured out on his own into sun-baked landscapes in search of a “fan-throated lizard” – a small lizard with a large double chin. His post-doctoral position at the Indian Institute of Science, and thus funding, were yet to come but he had already laid the foundation of what would keep him busy for the next few years.
Only two species of the unusual lizards Veerappan loved watching had been known from India. From observing them in the wild, he knew there were actually more than two. This led Veerappan to discover five new species of fan-throated lizards – named so because the males have loose, stretchable skin hanging from their necks.
This spectacular find is one among a slew of discoveries we have seen so far this year in India. Wherever you look, be it the shores in the south or mighty mountains in the north, sun-scorched lands of the west or wet hills of the east, new species are being found everywhere. And yet scientists say there’s more to come. What on earth is going on?
Nine new species of bush frog have been discovered in the Western Ghats, a mountainous region in southern India that is a hotspot of biodiversity.
Bush frogs are tiny animals, found mainly in South and South-East Asia, some of which can fit onto a 20 pence coin. Beginning in 2008, S. P. Vijayakumar, then at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, has been scouring the Western Ghats to find them. The new species he has found all belong to the genus Raorchestes, and he has identified them based on their appearance and genetics. Vijayakumar and his colleagues have published their findings in Zootaxa.
The Western Ghats is home to many species of frog, including the 14 dancing frogs discovered earlier this year. That’s because it is a fragmented landscape, with hills, valleys and plateaus. This means populations of frogs can easily wind up evolving in isolation.
Parasitic fig wasps of the genus Apocrypta lay their eggs inside unripe fruits of fig plants. Larvae that emerge from eggs of parasitic fig wasps feed on larvae of another species — the pollinating fig wasps. So, to ensure best nutrition and survival for its own eggs, a parasitic wasp female lays them near larvae of pollinating wasps already developing in the fig fruit.
To lay eggs inside, parasitic wasp females have to dig through the hard and woody skin of unripe figs several times in their lifespan. Evolution has gifted them with a long, flexible and slender egg-laying organ called the ovipositor, which they use to manage this feat. But there is more to an ovipositor that gives the wasps an edge…