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Wednesday, December 26

Striated Fivering spotted after 90 years in India during Neyyar WLS butterfly survey

Thiruvananthapuram: Butterfly researchers were stunned when they accidentally met and photographed Striated Five-ring (Ypthima striata ), a rare butterfly from Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary in Thiruvananthapuram district of Kerala during a recent butterfly survey,  since the last records of this small butterfly from India dates back to 19th century.

Striated Fivering, Ypthima striata , rare butterfly, Neyyar Wildlife sanctury, kerala butterflies, TNHS, butterfly survey
Image Courtesy: Indian Foundation for Butterflies

According to Dr. Kalesh Sadashivan, a butterfly expert and PRO of Travancore Natural History Society (TNHS), the record is the first one after 90 years, when the butterfly was last reported from Nilgiri by British collectors. 

The highlight of the survey was the discovery of the Striated Five-ring by Dr. Kunte and Dr.Milind which is the only known record in the country in the last 90 years. It was never found after it was collected from the Nilgiris in the last century”, says a post in the official group of TNHS in Facebook.

The butterfly was spotted near Venkulamedu near Anainirathy base camp inside Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary by a team lead by Dr. Krushnamegh Kunte  and Dr. Milind Bhakare during the survey. The photographs made by the survey team which are available Indian Foundation for Butterflies, could be the first live pictures of the rare butterfly from India.

Historical records show that G F Hampson has mentioned about the butterfly in his “Butterflies of the Nilgiri District”, published in 1888. According to his accounts, he collected a male specimen of the butterfly from Nilgiris at 5000 ft on August 25th of 1888. He has mentioned the habitat of the butterfly as the southern slopes of the Nilgiris with an elevation of 2000 to 4000 ft. 

According to Dr. Kunte, the new discovery is very important since the first record is from north of the Palghat gap and is some 500 to 600 kilometers from the latest report. Thus the new record indicates that the actual distribution of Striated Five-ring is not just restricted to Nilgiris.

Apart from the record of Striated Five-ring, the survey teams have also spotted Joker, an elusive butterfly which has been reported just twice from Kerala during the last 120 years. 

239 butterfly species identified at Peppara and Neyyar WLS

 According to sources, the survey has recorded a total of 239 butterfly species among which 22 are found only from Western Ghats from Peppara and Neyyar WLS together. The teams has reported 186 species of butterfly species from Neyyar WLS and 153 species at Peppara WLS. The findings of the survey may be published into a booklet detailing the butterfly diversity of Peppara and Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuaries, said sources. 

The three-day butterfly survey was jointly conducted by Kerala Forest Department and Travancore Natural History Society  during December 14th to 16th. According to TNHS, More than 30 volunteers from different parts of the country took part in the survey.

Now watch two mating Common Fivering butterflies after the break.

Quick Facts about Western Ghats Biodiversity

Known as ‘Sahyadri’ in local language, Western Ghats is a 1600 km long, 45-65 million years old mountain range which extends from south of the Tapti River in the border of Gujarat and Maharshtra to Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu, covering six states ( Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Kerala) in India.

The rich biodiversity of the region has made it an important region which should be conserved.

  •   It is part of the Sri Lanka Hotspot which is among the 34 Global biodiversity hotspots in the world.
  •   It is one among world’s 8 hottest biodiversity hotspots.
  •   South Western Ghats Moist Forests and Western Ghats Rivers are categorized as Critically Endangered by WWF under the 200 priority Eco regions in the world.
  •   World conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) considers it as one of the important area of freshwater biodiversity. 
  •   UNESCO has listed it as a World Heritage Site for its rich biodiversity.
  Tamil Lacewing,Cethosia nietneri, Agasthyarkoodam, Kerala, western ghat butterflies
Tamil Lacewing (Cethosia nietneri )(Agasthyarkoodam, Kerala),
one of the beautiful butterflies in WG.

Western Ghats biodiversity in numbers*
137 species of Mammals, 16 are endemic, including Lion-Tailed Macaque and Nilgir Tahr. 14 are globally threatened.

  •   More than 66 percent of Mammals in Western Ghats belong to Chiroptera ( bats), Insectivora(insect eating organisms) and Rodentia ( order of gnawing organisms like rats and squirrels)
  •   Among the endemic mammals, 62 percent are either bats or insect eating organisms or gnawing animals.
  •  Malabar Civet, Wroughton's free-tailed bat (Otomops wroughtoni) and Salim Ali’s Fruit bat are critically endangered.

508 Bird species, 16 of them are endemic to Western Ghats.

332 species Butterflies, 36 are endemic species.

290 species of fishes, 189 species and 12 genera are endemic. 12 endemic fish species are Critically Endangered
  •  Most diverse are Cyprinidae which includes carps and true minnows.
  •   East Flowing Rivers of Western Ghats show more diversity than the north flowing ones.

 203 species of reptiles among which snakes are a majority, 124 (62 percent) are endemic.

Malabar Green Pit Viper(Trimeresurus malabaricus) is a venomous reptile, endemic to Western Ghats.
181 Amphibians species with 159 are endemic, 16 are Critically Endangered.

 77 species of fresh water Molluscs , 27(36 percent) are endemic.

270 species of land snails, 207 (77 percent) are endemic 

200 globally threatened species, but only 10 percent of Western Ghats area comes under protected category.

Critically Endangered

Source: Fauna of Ecosystems of India - Western Ghats, ZSI

*As of September 2012

Radhakrishnan, c. and Rajmohana, K. 2012, Fauna of Ecosystems of India - Western Ghats: 1-14. ( Published by the Director, ZSI, Kolkata)

Sunday, December 23

New glass fish species Parambassis waikhomi described from Loktak Lake, Manipur

According to a research paper published in the Journal of threatened Taxa, researchers with the ICAR have found and described a glass fish species previously unknown to science from the Chindwin basin of the Loktak Lake in the North Eastern state of Manipur in India.

Parambassis waikhomi, new glass fish species, loktak lake fish, manipur fish
Parambassis waikhomi, the new glass fish species
 found in Loktak Lake, Manipur
The newly identified fish belongs to the family Ambassidae which has small to medium sized transparent fishes which are usually called freshwater glass perches. According to the researchers, the new fish belongs to Parambassis genus of glass fishes which differ from others in the number of scales in the lateral series and in the number of dorsal and anal fin rays.

The new comer now makes the sixth species of glass fishes in the Parambassis genus found in India. Totally 12 species are so far reported from the genus from the Asian continent.

Unique morphology of P. waikhomi
According to the research paper, the newly identified fish differs from other closely related species in the family with the presence of 58 to 60 lateral line scales, two predorsal bones and a set of other body characters. The newly described fish reportedly has a humeral spot, which also makes it different from six other closely related species of the same genus.

Loktak Lake
Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Similarly, it does not have the pre-dorsal scales present in many other species in the same genus. The number of gill rakes, scales in the lateral series also makes it different from closest relatives. The live specimens of the fish, according to the researchers, were semi-transparent with yellowish or silver coloration.

Named after Indian Icthyologist
The new species was named as Parambassis waikhomi, in honour of Prof. Waikhom Viswanatah who has made extensive contributions to the study of fishes in North Eastern India. He is presently at the Department of Life Sciences, Manipur University.

The fish, as per present knowledge, is restricted to the Chindwin Basin of Loktak Lake in Manipur. According to the paper, though glass fishes are found widespread in India, there is a need to take up detailed study to taxonomically describe them, since the supposedly widespread species may be actually species complexes. 

Friday, December 21

Fauna of Ecosystems of India - Western Ghats: Book Review

Fauna of Ecosystems of India - Western Ghats
Authors: C. Radhakrishnan and K. Rajmohana
Fauna of Protected Areas of Western Ghats
                Authors: K G Emiliyamma and Muhamed Jafer Palot
Publisher: Zoological Survey of India, Kolkata

Western Ghats has been a buzz word in the popular press recently, unfortunately, for wrong reasons. Ironically, majority of the states which enjoys the benefits of the ecological services rendered by the age old mountain range were very critical about a crucial report to protect it in sustainable ways. It is where these humble books published by Zoological Survey of India on Fauna of Western Ghats stands relevant.

Fauna of Ecosystems of India Western ghats, free ebook
Fauna of Ecosystems of India Western ghats
Front cover
fauna of protected areas of Western ghats, free ebook front cover
Fauna of protected areas of Western ghats
Front Cover
As politicians, mining lobbies and other parties of vested interests are raking up a malicious campaign full of misguiding arguments against the conservation efforts; the book - Fauna of Ecosystems of India - Western Ghats - clearly upholds the conservation significance of the mountain range by depicting its rich fauna in just 14 pages.

Western Ghats and its conservation significance is a very tough and complex subject, just like the mountain ranges. However, the book delineates it in a very simple manner, first by going through the international recognition it has got for its rich biodiversity, then by depicting its rich fauna in terms of numbers. In the end, to subliminally point out the grim picture of its present conservation status, the book also reveals that only 10 percent of the total area of Western Ghats comes under protected category. 

The other book - Fauna of Protected Areas of Western Ghats- on the other hand, gives readers a quick glance through the different protected areas in Western Ghats with the number of protected areas, their area and the established year.

The books are very much matter of fact to the core. No jugglery with tougher scientific terms which always go over the head of the common man who wants to understand about the need to conserve the mountain range. Though the books do not delineate the ecosystem services rendered by the fauna of Western Ghats, they give a very detailed and updated picture regarding the rich biodiversity of the region.

Published during the CoP XI event in Hyderabad to elaborate the rich biodiversity of the country, these books are parts of a series of books published by Zoological Survey of India.

These books and their content is a ready reckoner, not only for a green activist who works for Western Ghats conservation, but for all people who directly or indirectly enjoys the resources of the mountain range.

Tuesday, December 18

Three new spider species identified from Western Ghats of Karnataka

Short URL for the story:

Adding more to the endemic fauna of the Western Ghats, researchers have identified and described three new species of spiders from the Uttara Kannada district in the Indian state of Karnataka. 

Neoheterophrictus crurofulvus, western Ghats spider, archanids in western ghats
Neoheterophrictus crurofulvus (Male)
Christened as Neoheterophrictus crurofulvus, N. sahyadri and N. uttarakannada, the newly identified spiders belong to a new genus Neoheterophrictus which is close to the existing Heterophrictus genus of spiders.
According to a research paper published in the Journal of Threatened Taxa, certain morphological and anatomical features which were consistent with the three species makes them different from other members of the Heterophrictus genus. 

The spiders in the new species have multi-lobed spermatheca (an organ in the reproductive tract in female spiders and other insects which usually stores the sperm from males to help fertilization), says the paper. 

Despite their close similarities with members of Heterophrictus and Plesiophrictus genuses, male spiders of new species have double tibial spur or two additional spines or segments at the distal end of their limbs than the members of closely related genuses. 

According to  Manju Siliwal, who was part of the research team, Stridulatory spines in these spiders are located on outer side of maxillae (small leg like structure in front of legs, where the basal segment is called maxillae) and inner side of coxa of first pair of leg. "So for sure, sound producing (by these spiders) might be different", she said.

The African Connection

The newly found genus also adds to the Gondwana relic taxa of the Peninsula. "The new genus belongs to the subfamily Eumenophorinae, which is restricted to Africa in distribution. So, finding a genus or species that is having ancestors in Africa are referred to be Gondwana relic", said the researcher.Presence of such connections supports the theory that India, Africa, Australia, South America and Antarctica were part of the super continent Gondwanaland which later broke apart to form the present continents.
Neoheterophrictus sahyadri, western ghats spider, spiders of karnataka
Female of Neoheterophrictus sahyadri
Among the three, Neoheterophrictus crurofulvus was named so for the light brown legs of the female spiders. ‘Cruro’ in Latin means legs or limbs and ‘fulvus’  means tawny or yellowish-brown. While the males of the species were found under decaying logs and rocks, females were spotted in burrows. According to the researchers, the females of the newly identified spiders make 0.15 to 0.25 meters long silky vertical burrows of 15 to 25 mm diameter on slopes.

"We found many male individuals below decaying wooden log and found one wandering female, first", said a researcher of the team. However, the female spiders gave a tough task to the researchers. " On searching for five months we were able to locate more females because they don’t built typical theraphosid web", says the researchers. 

Neoheterophrictus sahyadri was named after the biodiversity hot spot and world heritage site Western Ghats from where it was found, since the mountain ranges are called ‘Sahyadri’ in local languages. 

Neoheterophrictus uttarakannada, indian spiders, western ghats spiders
Female of Neoheterophrictus uttarakannada
Females of the N. sahyadri makes burrows of 30 cm deep under decaying logs or rocks and hides in the burrow if the log is disturbed. According to researchers, they also tend to mark the borders of the resting place with mud. 

The third among the newly described spiders was named Neoheterophrictus uttarakannada after the district from which it was collected. The new discovery adds to the arachinid diversity of Western Ghats. 

The new addition to points to the unexplored nature of the rich biodiversity of Western Ghats. "It shows that these areas have still potential to find something new or interesting.", said Manju Siliwal who is a researcher with the Wildlife Information Liaison Development Society, Tamil Nadu. 

Neha Gupta, University School of Environmental Management, Guru Gobind Indraprastha University, and Robert Raven, Queensland Museum, Queensland, Australia have also co-authored the paper.