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New species of caecilian amphibian reported from Kerala

A team of scientists from the University of Kerala; Central University, Kasaragod; and Natural History Museum, London, have reported the discovery of a new species of caecilian (limbless) amphibian from the southern region of the Western Ghats in Kerala.

Gegeneophis primus belongs to the Indotyphlidae family comprising African, Seychellean and Indian varieties. It is the first new species of Gegeneophis reported from Kerala since1964. The species were collected from the Sugandhagiri Cardamom Estate neighbouring an evergreen forest at Vythiri in the northern district of Wayanad.

The team, including K. Ramachandran from the University of Kerala, Oommen V. Oommen from the Central University and David J. Gower and Mark Wilkinson from the Natural History Museum found that the species, unlike other Gegeneophis, lacked scales and secondary annular grooves, as well as a well-developed terminal shield.

Measuring approximately 168 mm in length and pink in colour, the specimens were dug out from moist soil along the shrub-covered banks of a stream under a dense canopy.

Chance find

The researchers stumbled upon the new species while on the trail of another caecilian spotted in Kerala 142 years ago. After a second collection from the same location, the identification was confirmed by scientists at the Natural History Museum.

The finding has been reported in the latest edition of Zootaxa, an international journal for zoological taxonomists. The wider distribution, natural history and habitat preferences of the species are yet to be determined.

The paper notes that the population of G.primus at the locality from where it was found was not likely to be under threat as long as the habitat was maintained. The team has proposed that the conservation status of the species be classified as Data Deficient under the IUCN Red List criteria. The paper suggests the common name of Malabar Cardamom Geg for the species, indicating the northern part of the State and the cardamom estate from where it was discovered.

G.primus is only the third Indotyphlid caecilian species reported from Kerala after G.carnosus, described by Beddome in 1870 and G. ramaswami by Taylor in 1964.

Dr. Oommen said the discovery was significant since the finding ended a hiatus of almost half-a-century. “It highlights the fact that the knowledge of caecilian amphibians of the Western Ghats remains incomplete and in need of further study.”