More new species from India

Between 2008 and 2017, herpetologists found 35 new species of lizards in India. This year they’ve reported two more already. The two lizards look very similar to a species that was known before and were hidden so far because they were misidentified as this other species. Genetic tools allowed scientists to study the lookalikes and classify them as separate species. More importantly, the species were found in the parched wastelands of the country – suggesting that these places cannot be overlooked for their potential to harbour life.

To know more, read my piece for Mongabay here.

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Photo credit: Ishan Agarwal

Why do fan-throated lizards come in such a wide variety?

Fan-throated lizards are a group mostly of colorful and some plain lizards that live on sandy beaches and barren plateaus of the Indian subcontinent.

Colourful or drab, all males have a special ornament to lure females – a loose flab of skin under the throat. Doesn’t sound very attractive, does it? But that does it for them. Here’s how: to draw the attention of females, males get their feet on a rock (or any raised platform), stretch their body and extend their loose under-throat into a fan. Hence the name.

1. A fan-throated lizard (Sarada superba)

The first species of fan-throated lizard was found in India back in 1829. Since, there have been rumours of more species in the scientific community but discoveries have been few. That changed in 2016 when scientists found 5 new species in one go. Now, they have found that there are at least 15 species, including the ones discovered in 2016.

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The sheer variety owes itself to changes in climate that happened millions of years ago – with the arrival of monsoons, rains became seasonal and grasslands expanded. This worked in favour of fan-throated lizards as they adapted to these changes and morphed into several species we see today.

I wrote about how a changing climate impacted the lizards for Mongabay-India today. You may also like my other pieces about these beautiful bright beasts published here at The BBC and here at The Wire in 2016.

3. Sitana sivalensis Credit - V. Deepak.JPG

Photo credits: V. Deepak

Sandfish stays sand-free

The sandfish lizard spends most of its life buried in the sand—emerging only to eat, poop, and mate. This lifestyle helps the lizard evade the sweltering desert heat in the Middle East and North Africa, but it causes another problem: inhaling sand particles. Yet when scientists looked into the respiratory tract and lungs of five dead lizards, they couldn’t find a single grain of sand. They couldn’t find an obvious filter in the lizard’s respiratory system, either.

Puzzled? So were the scientists. To know how they solved the mystery, go to Science.

Photo credit: Anna T. Stadler

Beautiful bright beasts

One new genus and five new species of fan-throated lizards have been found in the drier parts of India.

Fan-throated lizards are small ground dwellers. The males flaunt a multihued, fan-shaped fold of skin on their throats during the breeding season.

Because they live in dry and barren soils, when the midday heat starts to get to them they skitter about on their rear legs. Fan-throated lizards are restricted to parts of South Asia. Little has been known about them since the first species was reported in 1829 from India. After this, only six more species have been found: three from Nepal, two from Sri Lanka and one from India.

Know more about the lizards at BBC Earth.

Photo credits: V. Deepak