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Page last updated at 11:45 GMT, Friday, 24 July 2009 12:45 UK

New lizard species found in India

Cnemasspis Kolhapurensis
Cnemasspis Kolhapurensis is endemic to parts of India's Western Ghats

Scientists have discovered a new species of lizard in the lush Western Ghats mountain range in the Indian state of Maharashtra.

The small reptile is a form of gecko and was found by taxonomist Varad Giri in the Kolhapur district. It has been named Cnemasspis kolhapurensis.

Mr Giri and his co-workers published their findings in this month's edition of the Zootaxa journal.

It is the third new species of lizard recently discovered in the area.

Mr Giri, a curator at the Bombay Natural History Society, told the BBC that the Western Ghats has never been surveyed for amphibians and reptiles.

"A gecko of this particular character has not been recognised elsewhere in the world," he said.

Iridescent sheen

Mr Giri said he first noticed the lizard in 2005 during a survey of one of the forests in the area.

Varad Giri
Taxonomist Varad Giri first noticed the lizard in 2005

"When I first stumbled across it, the lizard looked like a normal specimen," he said.

"It was basically a form of gecko but then I saw that it was interesting because its scales were shiny."

He said that when the gecko was held up in a certain light, the tail dorsum exhibited an "iridescent sheen".

Iridescence is commonly reported in a variety of reptiles - but not geckos.

Once Mr Giri and his co-workers had analysed the specimen, they realised it was a previously unknown species.

They then enlisted the help of Dr Aaron M Bauer, an expert on lizards based at Villanova University in the US, to confirm the discovery.

Cnemasspis kolhapurensis are mostly small in size and have a circular, rather than elliptical, pupil. They are generally found in forests although some have also been found in areas inhabited by humans.

Mr Giri said it is a ground-dwelling specimen and can be seen in leaf litter or under rocks.

'Under threat'

"Presently this species is known only to this area. It is endemic to the northern parts of the Western Ghats," he added.

The Western Ghats mountain range is said to be one of the world's "biodiversity hotspots".

But analysts say that the area is at risk of a biodiversity crisis, because it has long been under threat from logging and human encroachment.

Mr Giri says the discovery may well help in arguments to preserve parts of the landscape.

"This is really important now because there is a lot of human interference and deforestation," he said.

Other new species of lizard previously discovered in the area were Hemidactlyus sataraensis and Hemidactylus aaronbaueri.



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