Starry Night Inspired Lizard Discovered in India

A group of scientists from the Thackeray Wildlife Foundation in India have discovered a new species of lizard in the Southern Western Ghats, which they named after the famous Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh. The striking coloration of the male lizards, with their yellow head and forebody and light blue spots on the back, reminded the researchers of Van Gogh’s iconic painting, “The Starry Night.”

The new species, named Cnemaspis vangoghi, was found during an expedition in April 2022 to the Southern Western Ghats in Tamil Nadu, India. The researchers, Ishan Agarwal, Akshay Khandekar, and Tejas Thackeray, recently published their findings in the peer-reviewed journal ZooKeys.

“Cnemaspis vangoghi is named for Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh (1853–1890) as the striking colouration of the new species is reminiscent of one of his most iconic paintings, The Starry Night,” explains Ishan Agarwal, who took part in the study to describe the new lizard.

The discovery of this new species highlights the exceptional biodiversity found in Tamil Nadu, a state in southern India. Agarwal and his colleagues expect to name more than 50 new species of lizards as they continue their expeditions in the region.

“Tamil Nadu is an exceptionally biodiverse state and we expect to name well over 50 new species of lizards by the time we are done [with our expeditions]!,” Ishan Agarwal says.

However, the expedition was not without its challenges. Agarwal recounts, “I also had more than 500 tick bites during that summer trip, with the highest densities in the low-elevation, dry forests of Srivilliputhur, where the new species are found.”

Cnemaspis vangoghi is a small-sized gecko that can reach 3.4 cm in length. It was described as new to science together with another species of its genus, Cnemaspis sathuragiriensis, named for its type locality, the Sathuragiri Hills.

The two new species are found in low elevation (250–400 m above sea level) deciduous forests of Srivilliputhur and add to the five previously known endemic vertebrates from Srivilliputhur-Megamalai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu. These lizards are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day, mainly during the cool hours of early morning and evening. They are primarily found on rocks and occasionally on buildings and trees.

“The two new species are distributed in low elevation (250–400 m asl.), deciduous forests of Srivilliputhur, and add to the five previously known endemic vertebrates from Srivilliputhur-Megamalai Tiger Reserve, Tamil Nadu, India,” Ishan Agarwal explains.

So far, these new species have only been found in very restricted localities, which Agarwal describes as “an interesting case of micro-endemism in low-elevation species.”

The discovery of the Starry Night inspired lizard not only adds to our knowledge of the incredible biodiversity found in the Southern Western Ghats but also highlights the importance of conservation efforts to protect these unique and often localized species. As scientists continue to explore the region, it is likely that more fascinating discoveries will be made, further emphasizing the need to preserve these rich and diverse ecosystems.

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