Guwahati: A new genus and species of skink was recently discovered under fallen logs at the Talle Wildlife Sanctuary in Arunachal Pradesh.

The team of researchers from India and Russia, which comprised experts from National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore (NCBS), Bombay Natural History Society, Mumbai (BNHS), Lomonosov Moscow State University, Moscow (LMSU), Abasaheb Garware College, Pune (AGC) and Veer Narmad South Gujarat University, Surat (VNSGU), unearthed an unknown group of lizards of the family of skinks in Arunachal Pradesh.

Skinks are ground dwelling small-sized lizards mostly seen actively moving among leaf litter during the day. They are usually more elongate and glossy with distinctly shorter legs.

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The new genus and species, Protoblepharus apatani, was discovered by the same team that earlier discovered the Salazar pit viper and several other new species of snakes and lizards from the state during their expedition in 2019.

Zeeshan A. Mirza (NCBS), Harshal Bhosale (BNHS) and Gaurang Gowande (AGC), who traveled across Arunachal Pradesh for a month and a half during the months of June to August 2019, led the expedition team. The team found the new skink genus and species under fallen logs in Talle Valley Wildlife Sanctuary.

These lizards are small and active, with a dark brown body with two faint stripes with a brilliant iridescent sheen to its scales.

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The species is currently known exclusively from Talle Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in East Kameng District of Arunachal Pradesh, and inhabits montane evergreen forests on an elevation of 1,800–2,000 metres, where it was recorded at forest clearings. The recommended English name is Apatani East-Himalayan Skink.

“The team compared the morphological characters, DNA and skull features to ensure correct identification. Based on preliminary results, the Arunachal skink stood distinct and required a comparison of additional DNA data,” Zeeshan A. Mirza of NCBS told EastMojo.

The additional DNA data was provided by Russian researchers Andrey Bragin and Nikolay A. Poyarkov provided. Bragin works on skinks related to the one that was found in Arunachal under the guidance of Poyarkov.

“Their expertise, coupled with that of Harshil Patel (VNSGU), helped shape and refine the results, and a joint paper was published in the current issue of the international multidisciplinary journal PeerJ,” Mirza said.

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The new species is named after the Apatani tribe of Arunachal Pradesh’s Ziro valley. The authors acknowledge their help, support and hospitality during their stay in Talle Valley.

This is the fifth new species of reptile to be described by the team from surveys made in a single expedition in 2019. “Arunachal Pradesh by far remains the least explored Indian state in regard to its reptilian diversity, as Protoblepharus apatani gen. et sp. nov. described in the present work represents the fifth new reptile species discovered and described from a single rapid survey,” the study paper says.

The rapid survey yielded five new species in a survey of a month and a half. This highlights the poor nature of herpetofaunal documentation in the region.

Researchers involved in the study say further intensified survey efforts are required to document the reptilian fauna of the region and to elaborate the corresponding conservation measures.

“Mountain forests in Arunachal Pradesh are threatened to a greater degree than in other parts of northeastern India and hence immediate efforts to document biodiversity of the region are imperative to ensure its conservation,” the researchers said.

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