New Kangaroo Lizard Species: The ‘Diminutive Dragon’ of Western Ghats

Scientists have discovered a new species of tiny lizards from the southern Western Ghats, which they have named Agasthyagama edge or the northern kangaroo lizard. The new species belongs to the Agamidae family and is the second one of the Agasthyagama genus after A. beddomii or Indian kangaroo lizard.

What makes them unique?

The northern kangaroo lizard has a uniform dull olive-brown body with slightly darker head. It also has a white throat with a broad dark brown stripe on its dewlap with brick yellow scales on the outside. It is known to have a maximum snout-vent length of 4.3 cm, making it one of the smallest lizards in the world.

Unlike other lizards, the northern kangaroo lizard has a reduced fifth toe that makes it a poor climber. It prefers to stay on the ground and hide in the leaf litter. It feeds on small insects and runs fast to escape predators.

How was it discovered?

The new species was first sighted in 2015 by a group of scientists who were searching for another elusive species, the Mahabali frog or the purple frog, near a bus stop in Idukki district of Kerala. They initially thought it was A. beddomii, but later found more specimens from the same locality that showed consistent morphological and genetic differences.

The researchers named the new species after the Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) programme of the Zoological Society of London, which supports conservation efforts for rare and threatened species.

Why is it important?

The discovery of the northern kangaroo lizard adds to the biodiversity richness of the Western Ghats, one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. The Western Ghats are home to many endemic and endangered species of plants and animals, including frogs, snakes, birds and mammals.

The new species also highlights the need for more comprehensive and focused sampling in some areas of the Western Ghats, where many undiscovered species may still exist. The researchers hope that their finding will raise awareness and interest in the conservation of these fragile ecosystems.

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