New species of flying geckos uncovered in Mizoram

Bearing the name of the state it was discovered in, the Mizoram parachute gecko, or Gekko mizoramensis, is one of the 14 geckos known to take to the air

Mizoram parachute gecko (photo courtesy @daily_reptiles/Twitter)
Mizoram parachute gecko (photo courtesy @daily_reptiles/Twitter)


Scientists have uncovered a new species of gliding geckos in Mizoram, an advance that will highlight the underappreciated biodiversity of northeast India and encourage greater efforts to document its wildlife.

Bearing the name of the state it was discovered in, the Mizoram parachute gecko, or Gekko mizoramensis, is one of the 14 geckos known to take to the air.

While one specimen of the new species was collected more than 20 years ago, the differences from its relatives have only now been appreciated.

"The wildlife of northeast India isn't as well known as it could be because of the amount of dense forest. While recent development has opened up access, forest clearance endangers its biodiversity," said Ph.D. student Zeeshan Mirza, who co-authored the research paper published in the journal Salamandra,.

"Most research in the past has focused on charismatic fauna such as birds and mammals, leaving reptile species underexplored. My own surveys of the region have uncovered several new species, including Salazar's pit viper, which is named after a character from Harry Potter," Mirza said in a statement.

Geckos are are believed to be among the earliest evolving squamates, the group that contains all lizards, snakes and their close relatives, with their ancestors first appearing in the fossil record hundreds of millions of years ago. Early geckos had already developed some of their key characteristics by 100 million years ago.

Genetic studies and preserved remains reveal that they had evolved the adhesive pads on their feet which allow them to climb almost any surface using a network of microscopic hairs.

Other adaptations, such as the ability to discard and regrow their tails to distract predators, or see well in the dark, have helped them to become one of the most successful lizard groups, the researchers said.

There are more than 1,200 species of gecko today, making up around a fifth of all known lizards, they said.

Unlike other gliding reptiles, which use bone to form their flying surfaces, these geckos have flaps of skin. When the lizards leap off a tall structure, air resistance pushes the flaps out to their full extent much like a parachute, slowing the speed at which they fall.

The skin flaps also help to break up their shape, acting as a camouflage against predators. Their specialised camouflage and body shape is shared by multiple species, making it hard to tell them apart from one another.

Researchers only discovered that G. mizoramensis was its own species based on genetic analysis, as well as slight differences in size and colouration. It is thought that the species evolved as a result of being separated from its closest relative, G. popaensis, by the Arakan Mountains, they said.

This region is known to be home to numerous species of lizard, with the researchers suggesting that many more geckos may be found not just in India, but also in areas bordering Bangladesh and Myanmar.

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