A team of scientists from the Government College, Chittur, Kerala State Biodiversity Board (KSBB), and Natural History Museum, London, have reported the discovery of a new species of caecilian (limbless) amphibian from the southern part of the Western Ghats.
The new species, named Gegeneophis tejaswini after the Tejaswini river in north Kerala, is the 12th Gegeneophis species discovered from the Western Ghats and the fourth from Kerala.
Caecilians are limbless subterranean amphibians found in wet tropical and sub-tropical regions.
Of the 204 caecilian species reported so far, some resemble snakes while others look like worms.
Over two years
The scientists collected the specimens over a period of two years from 2008 from Bedoor village bordering the Kamballur reserve forest, near Cheemeni, in Kasaragod district.
All the eight specimens were dug out from the soil in home gardens bordering plantations and the reserve forest.
Nearly blind
The species is nearly blind, with the eye covered by bone. The identification of the species has been confirmed by the Natural History Museum.
The team of scientists including K. Ramachandran from the Government College, Chittoor; Mark Wilson from the Natural History Museum; and Oommen V. Oommen, Chairman, KSBB, have published the finding in the latest edition of Zootaxa, an international journal on zoological taxonomy.
Measuring 135 mm to 224 mm in length, the specimens are pinkish in colour and easily mistaken for earthworms.
According to the authors, people usually fail to recognise caecilian amphibians because of their secretive underground life and superficial similarity to earthworms.
‘Data Deficient’
Given that G.tejaswini is known only from a small series of specimens from a single locality and that very little is known of its general ecology and nothing of its reproductive biology, the authors have proposed that the species be classified as Data Deficient under IUCB criteria.
Not abundant
They surmise that the species is not abundant in the region, considering that 39 man hours of digging in localities 20 km from the site failed to yield additional specimens.
According to the paper, the discovery of G.tejaswini reinforces the perception that the Western Ghats region of northern Kerala and southern Karnataka is particularly diverse for caecilians.