New Species from India

Every time we read about nature and wildlife in India, it is almost always depressing news about how elephants are being tortured and how the tiger population is dwindling to extinction. However, there has been a lot of good news too, which is mostly ignored. It is extremely unusual for new biological species to be discovered, and the number of new discoveries from India in recent years is simply astounding. Here is a sampling of some of these treasures.

Peacock Blue Tarantula

Outlook reports: The spectacular Peacock Tarantula was named on the basis of a single specimen obtained at Gooty (Andhra Pradesh) railway station’s timber yard in 1899. Naturalists doggedly searched the area for the spider. About 102 years later, some distance from Gooty, they found the most beautiful spider in the world in a totally degraded forest. Within five hours. While this re-discovery went totally unnoticed in India, it set the network of European and American animal dealers buzzing. Within a year 12 specimens of the tarantula were smuggled out of the country and the babies hit the pet trade the following year. In 2005 when I visited an exotic pet expo in the United States each baby was worth US $350, down from $1,000 in 2003.

Andaman Lizard

Yet another effortless discovery happened at the field station of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Environmental Team in 2004. Lizard researcher Shreyas Krishnan heard a splash in the rapidly growing pond outside. A lizard it was, and one that neither he nor any of the numerous visiting herpetologists had ever seen before. Shreyas had discovered not only a species, but a whole new genus.

Large-Billed Reed Warbler

The Large-billed Reed-warbler is the world’s least known bird. A single bird was collected in the Sutlej Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India, in 1867, but many had questioned whether it indeed represented a true species. A live specimen was then trapped by Philip D. Round in March 2006 in Thailand and it was confirmed to be a new species.

This bird was sighted at Narendrapur, 10 kms from Kolkata on 1st April 2007.

Bugun Liocichla

In September 2006, the National Geographic reported that an amateur bird-watcher who was an astronomer, found the first new bird species to be discovered in India in over 50 years.

No specimen was taken, because “we thought the bird was just too rare for one to be killed,” said Ramana Athreya, the bird’s discoverer, in a statement.

Because the Bugun liocichla is so distinctive and doesn’t appear to fear humans, experts say it must be extremely rare or it would have been discovered before now.

Smallest Indian Land Vertebrate

A few days back, Science Daily reported that India’s smallest land vertebrate, a 10-millimeter frog, has been discovered from the Western Ghats of Kerala by Delhi University Systematics Biologist, S D Biju and his colleagues.

Adult males are barely 10 mm in length. In this photograph, the frog is placed on an Indian 5 rupee coin. Biju gave a new name for the frog, Nyctibatrachus minimus.

New Frog Family

In 2003, Biju had discovered a bright purple, bloated frog in the Western Ghats that was so unique it merited the establishment of not only a new species but also a new family.

This creature evolved during the heyday of the dinosaurs. Dubbed Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis, it evolved about 130 million years ago, prior to the break up of India and the Seychelles around 65 million years ago.

Arunachal Macaque

As a well populated country of over a billion people, India seems an unlikely place to discover a new primate species. The last time in the world that researchers spotted a new macaque was in the Mentawai islands of Indonesia in 1903.

Hence the surprise discovery of this new monkey species made headlines over the world.

Macaca Munzala, as it was named, grabbed the attention of ecologists as it is one of the highest-dwelling primates in the world.

Limbless Lizard

In May this year, an Indian zoologist found a new species of limbless lizard in a forested area in Orissa.

“Preliminary scientific study reveals that the lizard belongs to the genus Sepsophis,” said Sushil Kumar Dutta, who led a team of researchers from “Vasundhra,” a non-governmental organization, and the North Orissa University.

While modern snakes and lizards are derived from a common evolutionary ancestor, they belong today to two entirely separate groups of animals, or orders.

Indian Egg-Eating Snake

Outlook reports: Another herpetological breakthrough was the rediscovery of the Indian Egg-Eating Snake, a toothless specialist. It was first found in Rangpur (now in Bangladesh) in 1863. Subsequently it disappeared altogether. In 2003, a specimen of the long lost Indian Egg-Eater turned up in Maharashtra.

Here’s the Wikipedia entry for the Elachistodon westermanni, as it is called.

New Dinosaur Species

Not a living species, but worthy of inclusion in this collection, a new species of dinosaur was discovered in 2003 along the Narmada river in Gujarat.

It has been named Rajasaurus narmadensis, or the regal reptile from Narmada. The age of the bones meant that Rajasaurus was a contemporary of Tyrannosaurus rex and therefore one of the last species to live before the dinosaurs were wiped out.

(Credits: This was inspired by the Outlook article referenced in the post, from which I decided to do further research. Photographs are from the articles linked to from the post)


25 thoughts on “New Species from India

  1. WOW.
    There is so much of Indian Wildlife to discover,
    so short for one life time.
    Thanks a lot Mahendra.

  2. The bloated, purple frog reminds me of a Star Wars character.

    I didn’t know that scientists still take specimens by killing the animal. At least the astronomer spared the bird.

    As for smuggling the animals out to be bred as pets….how selfish!

    Your research would make a wonderful book for children, the kind adults like to look at too. I learned so much by reading science books to my boys when they were young. Wonderful article, Mahendra.

  3. Madhuri: Thank you! I think India’s cultural diversity is only rivalled by its biodiversity! πŸ™‚

    Prax: Thank you! Glad you had a nice trek!

    Cristine: I don’t think scientists take specimens by killing – they do by capturing. In this case, they did show unusual sensitivity in not capturing the bird! Isn’t it wonderful?

    Smuggling to keep as pets is a lesser evil – at least they care for their pets the best they can. Smuggling body parts after slaughtering animals to make medieval medicines whose authenticity is suspect is a greater evil – that that’s what’s happening to India’s tigers!

    Thank you for your kind words. I think writing for children requires special skills! The nice part about it is that adults too can learn so much from the science books for children. These days, there are a lot of children’s science books coming out and I’m very happy about that.

    VBR: πŸ˜€ Thanks for reading!

  4. I must tell you that this post did not appeal to me all that much, but visually was the most impressive ever in your blog.
    Do I sound like an art critic, leaving everyone confused as to whether he liked it or hated it?

  5. Prerna: Thank you.

    Rambodoc: It means the post was okay, but with a lot of interesting photographs! πŸ™‚
    Your wit is once again leaving me speechless, yes you do sound like an art critic! πŸ™‚

  6. Pingback: The Secret of Life « Mariacristina

  7. I would never associate Tarantula with India – so to find that we also have such rare colored one….great !! Loved all the pics and text.
    (concern is that sometime these news actually gets into wrong hands much often – so are these discoveries good for the animals….?? – I hope people realize that finding such rare sights in forest is where its enjoyed best and leave at that….!)

    I hope you also continue this series and may be do sequel – on Flora.

    *greedy* πŸ™‚

  8. Bendtherulz: Thanks so much! Isn’t the tarantula amazing?!

    This news goes into the wrong hands anyways, they have their own means and supplies of information. It is we simpletons who are usually unaware of such things! πŸ™‚

    Thanks for the encouragement. Let me think about that sequel…

  9. Your for mentioned Peacock Tarantula left india by permit only after did they cry foul…. They have since been bred so efficiently, there is no need for any more to be removed from the wild. It is a shame you do not mention that deforestation kills these wonderfull creatures daily by the hundreds. It is a shame that they will only have a home in captivity in the future, It is easy to criticise and exaggerate the trade in tarantulas especially the genus Peocilothera but habitat loss goes unmentioned as the trade in wood for fuel and furniture, and land clearance, which in turn leads to erosion and loss of human life in landslides during the monsoon, seems not to matter.

    Don’t get me wrong I do not condone smuggling, just get the facts right first….

  10. sir,
    thanks for the wonderful information.
    Recently it was noticed that the German doctor ClarkMark Baumgarten came to Visakha of A.P.and collected tarantula without permission.
    this was brought to light by local tvnews reporter.
    such cases of biopiracy are violation of The biological diversity act 2002(India)

  11. 5 minutes ago, 5 minutes before I found your website, I read that IUCN has placed the Peacock Blue Tarantula on the critically endangered list–it’s on the critically endangered list & you’re talking about good news & the this tarantula’s babies being in pet expo’s & you’re quoting prices—this is really messed up

    life sacred or a commodity

    To me it’s sacred

  12. Hello,
    I chanced upon this blog quite accidentally- I was hunting for some info on Species Introduction and this was one of the links that google provided.
    But am quite pleased with what i learnt..
    Good work
    Keep it up!
    Biodiversity conservation is the need of the hour!

  13. Thank you. There are a lot of Googlers every day who come and visit that post, but hardly any take the time to leave a comment, so I am grateful to you.

Comments are closed.