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.
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.
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.
Primates are known both to grieve their loved ones and practice cannibalism, but for the first time, scientists have recorded a Tonkean macaque eating her dead baby.
Researchers studying macaques at the Parco Faunistico di Piano dell’Abatino animal sanctuary observed a new mother named Evalyne “caring” for her deceased infant for weeks, and then consuming its mummified body until nothing but a single bone remained.
Tonkean macaques—which are native to Southeast Asia—tote around their babies’ corpses for hours or, even days. It could be a manifestation of grief, or an absence of understanding that the offspring is dead.
“This kind of behavior has been documented in chimpanzees and a few other primates, with mothers carrying their dead infant until it disintegrates,” notes Frans de Waal, a primatologist at Emory University who was not involved in the new research.
Greater Ani is not your regular cuckoo. Rather than dump its eggs in the nests of other species it builds its own and raises its young alongside other breeding Anis. The eggs bump into each other with quite some force as parent birds turn them during incubation. Now, researchers have shown that Anis have evolved eggs with the added protection of an uncommon mineral that keeps the eggs from cracking under pressure.
Vaterite, a form of calcium carbonate, sits on the eggshell of some birds in tiny spheres of varying size. It is less stable and abundant than calcite – another form of calcium carbonate that primarily constitutes the shell. Vaterite gives freshly laid Ani eggs their white chalky appearance. As incubation progresses, it gets scratched, exposing patches of the pigmented calcite underneath. When scientists studying nesting Greater Anis (Crotophaga major) in the Panama Canal noticed this change in the egg surface they decided to look deep into it.
Once a female dragonfly has mated, all she is interested in doing is laying eggs and getting on with her life. So, when stalked by an unwelcome lover (or two), she crashes to the ground and plays dead. When the duped males eventually leave, the female flies off. The behavior was reported recently in the journal Ecology.
This may seem counter-intuitive, for one “purpose” of a species is to leave as many offspring as possible. But female dragonflies “know” what’s best for them. And what’s that? Find out in my story for Live Science.
Animals struggle during winters. No surprise there. But it isn’t a shortage of food alone that bothers them. This January was pretty harsh with temperatures lingering below zero for days on end and that meant ice was everywhere. Even the city lakes were covered in ice. When it comes to birds, you may think “that’s no problem, they can fly.” But icy conditions made it really hard for some. From the antics that played out on the ice, it seemed highly sensible of these swans to break their way through the ice than to walk over it or take off on the slippery runway:
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?
These Indian dancing frogs are named for the antics males get up to when they want to grab the attention of a female.
Perched on a wet rock in a noisy, fast-flowing stream, a male sings and waves to the females. He lifts and stretches a leg to flag his white, webbed toe.
Any rival males on the territory are literally kicked out by the singing-and-dancing male.
It now turns out that this foot-waving, which was observed in nine species of the genus Micrixalus, is not the only bizarre trait that runs in the family. For the first time, researchers have found the tadpoles of a dancing frog, specifically the Kallar dancing frog (Micrixalus herrei).
Unlike most tadpoles, which live in water, they live underground until they develop into froglets.
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.
Five new species of brightly coloured freshwater crabs have been found in the Western Ghats, India’s wildlife haven. Of these, two species belong to the genus Ghatiana (discovered in 2014) and the remaining to Gubernatoriana (known since 1970).
Behind the discoveries are an undergraduate student and researchers from the Zoological Survey of India and the Indian Herpetological Society. They described the five new species, named Ghatiana atropurpurea, Ghatianasplendida,Gubernatorianathackerayi, Gubernatorianawaghi, and Gubernatorianaalcocki, in the journal Zootaxa on February 23.
Prior to this, 36 species belonging to 14 different genera were known from the Western Ghats in the family of freshwater crabs called Gecarcinucidae. So the latest discoveries bring the total species count to 41.
Indian researchers, in collaboration with the Natural History Museum in London, have found a new species of burrowing, non-venomous snake that has smooth, shiny scales.
The species remained misidentified and stashed among museum specimens for a long time before scientists thought it might be distinct. To confirm their doubts, they looked in the wild – and unlike many museum finds that are extinct by the time they are discovered, this one still existed. And it continues to do so in the semi-evergreen forests of the Western Ghats of India.
Ecologists have mapped Asian elephants in the Indian state of Karnataka down to the smallest forest administrative unit. The detailed map, which shows where elephants exist inside and outside protected areas, could help conservation planning and minimize human–elephant conflicts.
Karnataka has the largest population of Asian elephants (Elephasmaximus) in India. But recent decades have witnessed increased pressure on their habitat and clashes between people and the jumbos. A detailed map of elephant distribution is crucial to understand where humans should get priority, where elephants should and where they can coexist. Yet, there is no microscopic map of Asian elephants anywhere.
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.
Promoting coexistence of humans and elephants in Anamalai Hills (literally “The Elephant Hills”), situated in the Western Ghats of southern India, has been the key objective of M. Ananda Kumar for over a decade. A wildlife biologist with the Nature Conservation Foundation, Kumar is a staunch believer in the benefits that involving local communities in conservation work can reap. Kumar’s work on human–elephant conflict resolution in the Ghats has been recognized with the Carl Zeiss Wildlife Conservation Award.
In an interview with me, Kumar speaks of the change that has been brought about in the attitude of people towards elephants—from hostile to tolerant.
Excerpts from the interview:
What threatens elephant survival in India?
Activities such as setting up of micro hydel projects, dams, power lines or roads in prime elephant habitats pushes these animals out of their habitat into neighbouring towns and villages. That leads to negative interactions between people and elephants, and is detrimental to the elephant population in the country.
A viral outbreak is killing amphibians, including frogs, toads and salamanders, in the Picos de Europa National Park in Spain. As if the imminent local extinction of amphibians wasn’t grim enough in itself, their disappearance, scientists fear, could also tip the ecological balance in favour of species amphibians feed on.
A team of researchers from Spain and the United Kingdom started monitoring amphibians in the national park in 2005 when they first noticed a die-off from viral infection. The team is now the first to report two related, highly infectious viruses – the ranaviruses – simultaneously infecting multiple amphibian species at several locations in Spain.
“Ranavirus infection is often associated with severe disease and mass deaths of amphibians but previously decline of only one amphibian species had been [quantified]. Here, we show three amphibian species showing simultaneous population collapses in the Picos National Park,” says Stephen J. Price, researcher at University College London and an author of the study published today in the journal Current Biology.