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2016: India's year of dancing tadpoles and sorting hat spiders

  • 2016:  The year in India ecosystems
Indias year of dancing tadpoles and sorting hat spiders



 A new bird species was also found in Arunachal Pradesh besides three new species of butterflies in Uttarakhand, much to the delight of scientists.  The year started on a promising note with a new bird species found in northeast India and named after noted ornithologist Salim Ali. The bird was discovered by a team of scientists from India, Sweden, China, the US, and Russia.  The bird, Himalayan Forest Thrush, has been distinguished as a separate species by researchers and the discovery has been published in the international Avian Research journal.  This is only the fourth new bird species described from India by modern ornithologists since Independence.  Himalayan Forest Thrush is common in eastern Himalayas and so far, believed to be a sub-species of Plain-backed Thrush. 

In April this year, researchers discovered a new tadpole that burrows through sand and live in complete darkness in streambeds in the Western Ghats.  The tadpole, belonging to the Indian Dancing Frog family Micrixalidae, was documented in a joint expedition by a group of scientists from University of Delhi, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka and Gettysburg College, USA.  PLOS ONE, an open-access journal, published the study.  According to the study, these tadpoles were discovered in the deep recesses of streambeds where they live in total darkness until they fully develop into froglets.  With muscular eel-like bodies and skin-covered eyes which facilitate burrowing through gravel beds, the tadpole has well-serrated jaw sheaths which may help prevent large sand grains from entering its mouth while feeding and moving through sand.  The Indian Dancing frogs typically wave their legs as a territorial and sexual display while sitting on boulders in streams. Though these displays are well known, the tadpoles of these frogs were completely unknown. This was, in fact, the only family of frogs and toads whose tadpoles remained a mystery.

Uttarakhand, which is home to a large number of flora and fauna, added more to its name with three new varieties of butterflies discovered.  With the new discoveries, the total number of butterflies found in the hill state rose to 453. "Out of the 1300 varieties of butterflies found in India, Uttarakhand was home to 450 until recently when three more names were added to the list," said Statistical Officer, Forest Department, Shankar Kumar who is also a biodiversity enthusiast.  The three new varieties found are 'No War Three Ring', botanical name, Ypthima Newara, belonging to the Nymohakidae family, 'Western Five Ring', botanical name Ypthima Indecora, of the Nymohakidae family and 'Ciliate Blue', botanical name Anthene Emoluss of the Lycaenidae family, Kumar said.  Of the three new varieties, the first two were discovered and photographed in Nainital whereas the third was found in Haldwani, he said.

In Sikkim, a new species of a small mammal in the rabbit family was discovered in the higher altitudes of the Himalayas.  Identified as 'Ochotona sikimaria' — the new pika species was discovered by the study based on genetic data and skull measurements. The study has been published in the journal 'Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution'.  These members of the rabbit family look like tailless rats and have been in the news in North America for their sensitivity to impacts of climate change, like increasing temperature, which has caused several of the populations in pika series go extinct.  Nishma Dahal, the first author of the paper, started by collecting pika pellets to get its DNA and identify the species. On comparing the DNA sequences from the pellets with that of all known pika species in the world, she saw that these were quite different.  To prove that this is indeed a new species, she had to compare the Sikkim pika to its close relatives. It took two years for collaborations with researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Zoological Museum of Moscow and Stanford University to get detailed data on these possible sister species.

 A new roundworm species from India is a link between two genera. The unique features and blending characters of a new roundworm species, discovered in India, make the nematode an intermediary between two supposedly distant genera. The new worm is a hermaphrodite that primarily feeds on bacteria.  The study, conducted by a research team from the Aligarh Muslim University led by Qudsia Tahseen, is published in the open access Biodiversity Data Journal.  


On the lighter  side, a new species of spiders discovered in the forests of Karnataka has been named after Godric Gryffindor – a character from the wizarding world of Harry Potter. The spider is uniquely shaped like the magical artifact, the Sorting Hat, which features in J K Rowling's 'Harry Potter' series.  The famous talking hat was owned by the medieval wizard Godric Gryffindor, one of the four founders of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  The name 'Eriovixia gryffindori' is an ode to the "magic lost and found" – in an effort to draw attention to the fascinating, but often overlooked world of invertebrates, and their secret lives.


In Malabar Wildlife Sanctuary, a new termite species Glyptotermes Chiraharitae was discovered in October. The species are named 'Chiraharitae', after the tropical evergreen forests of the Western Ghats, where the termite was spotted. The flying adults of this species are approximately 10 mm long, while the soldiers are around 9.5 mm long.  


Rediscovered frogs: 

For more than a century, two mysterious tree frog specimens collected by a British naturalist in 1870 and housed at the Natural History Museum in London were assumed to be part of a vanished species, never again found in the wild until now. A group of scientists, led by renowned biologist Sathyabhama Das Biju, has rediscovered the frogs and also identified them as part of a new genus - one step higher than a species on the taxonomic ranking. Not only have they found the frogs in abundance in northeast Indian jungles, they believe they could also be living across a wide swathe of Asia from China to Thailand.  "This is an exciting find, but it doesn't mean the frogs are safe," Biju said, adding that he hopes the discovery
leads to more awareness of the dangers of unfettered development to the animals. The frogs were found at high altitudes in four northeast Indian states, underlining the rain-soaked region's role as a biodiversity hotspot. The plant world also unraveled some new species.

Plant species: 
A new plant species of the custard apple family has been discovered in India's biodiversity hotspot, the Western Ghats.  The new species is characterised by long flower stalk, maroon flowers and stigma (female reproductive part) shape that distinguish it from other closely related species.  “Though this plant belongs to the custard apple family, the fruits are not edible and look different”, said Navendu Page, a PhD student who made the discovery. The plant has been named as Miliusa malnadense, after Malnad, the part of the Western Ghats.

In the interiors of Kasaragod district, Researchers have discovered a new species of nymphoides from the seasonal ponds. The study has been published in the 'International Journal of Advanced Research.  India has some of the world's most biodiverse regions. It hosts 3 biodiversity hotspots: the Western Ghats, the Himalayas and the Indo-Burma region. These hotspots have numerous endemic species. The country is home to 97,514 species of animals and 45,000 species of  plants. 

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