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2019: The year Sri Lanka’s stunning new species came to light (Commentary)

  • In 2019, biodiversity-rich Sri Lanka yielded up more than 50 species new to science, most of them endemic to the Indian Ocean island.
  • Description of invertebrates scaled a new high with 32 new species discoveries recorded in a single year.
  • The newly described species are mostly range-restricted species known from very limited localities that require immediate conservation efforts.
  • This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

For the Indian Ocean island of Sri Lanka, it is not a huge surprise to have introduced more than 50 new species just in the past year. For this biodiversity-rich nation with high endemism, 2019 was a successful year, not just with many new species discoveries, but also with more engagement of a growing community of young researchers.

Though some of these discoveries received lot of public attention for different reasons, many were only known to the relevant scientific communities. Thus it is time to look back at the year and the discoveries the scientists made from this biologically rich nation and appreciate their efforts in biodiversity exploration.

Chilobrachys jonitriantisvansicklei, a shiny metallic-blue tarantula from a fragmented wet zone forest patch in western Sri Lanka. Image courtesy of Amila Prasanna Sumanapala.

Invertebrates were the leading group of taxa to be discovered from Sri Lanka in 2019, with 32 new species introduced — no mean effort for a small island. Surprisingly, all of these were arachnids.

There were 26 new spiders described, including 14 cellar spiders (family Pholcidae), seven jumping spiders (Salticidae), four crab spiders (Thomisidae) and a single tarantula species, the Sri Lanka ornate ground tarantula (Chilobrachys jonitriantisvansicklei).

One scorpion species (Heterometrus yaleensis) and five mites and ticks (subclass Acari) were also described in 2019 from Sri Lanka.

Interestingly, one of these mites, Neoaulonastus sidorchukae, was discovered from a specimen of a purple-rumped sunbird collected more than a century ago. These invertebrate discoveries were based on material collected all over the country from various ecosystems ranging from the coasts to the mountains.

Heterometrus yaleensis is a scorpion described from Yala National Park in the island’s southern province last August. Image courtesy of Amila Prasanna Sumanapala.

A diversity of species

The year 2019 also saw the discovery of 15 new species of vertebrates.

Fourteen of these were reptiles, with the Conniff’s shrub frog (Pseudophilautus conniffae) described from southern Sri Lanka, the only non-reptile vertebrate to be described in the year.

Among the newly described reptiles, 13 species belong to the day gecko genus Cnemaspis. The increased taxonomic attention given to the genus in recent years has resulted in new species being discovered from many different areas, including the Rakwana mountain range (C. godagedarai), Peak Wilderness Mountain Range (C. anslemi), isolated mountains in the dry and intermediate zones such as Dimbulagala (C. dissanayakai), Kokagala (C. gotaimbarai), Maragalakanda (C. hitihami) and Kudumbigala (C. nandimithrai) and Nilgala savannah forests (C. nilgala).

Cnemaspis anslemi, a diminutive, range-restricted day gecko was named in honor of herpetologist Anslem de Silva, known as the father of modern herpetology in Sri Lanka. Image courtesy of Sanoj Wijayasekara.

The de Silva’s rough-sided snake (Aspidura desilvai), the only snake to be described from the country in 2019, was discovered from the Knuckles Mountain Range.

All these species are restricted-range species known from very limited localities, thus requiring the immediate attention of conservation biologists and conservationists.

Toward the end of the year, six new species of Graphidaceae lichens were descried from Sri Lanka. Five species were discovered from the montane zone, and one from the lowland wet zone.

Apart from these new species discoveries, there were many other taxonomic findings that resulted from biodiversity explorations. These included several new species records to the country, observations of potentially new species to science, and taxonomic revisions resulting from taxa being elevated to species level recognition.

Cnemaspis dissanayakai, a new day gecko described in the final week of December 2019. Image courtesy of Amila Prasanna Sumanapala.

It is our fervent hope that the many biologists conducting biodiversity explorations in Sri Lanka will continue to make many more interesting discoveries in the New Year and contribute to the conservation of the new species described in the previous year.


Amila Prasanna Sumanapala is a field researcher studying the faunal biodiversity of Sri Lanka. He is currently doing postgraduate work on Sri Lankan Odonata, an order of carnivorous insects that include dragonflies and damselflies, and has more than a decade of experience in biodiversity research and assessments. He serves as an active member of several conservation organizations. 


Banner image of Aspidura desilvai, or De Silva’s rough-sided snake, named in honor of Pilippu Hewa Don Hemasiri de Silva, a former director of the National Museums of Sri Lanka and author of several books, courtesy of Sanoj Wijayasekera.



Batuwita, S., Agarwal, I., & Bauer, A. M. (2019). Description of a new diminutive, rupicolous species of day-gecko (Squamata: Gekkonidae: Cnemaspis) from southern Sri Lanka. Zootaxa, 4565(2), 223-234. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.4565.2.6

Batuwita, S., De Silva, M., and Udugampala, S. (2019). Description of a new species of Pseudophilautus (Amphibia: Rhacophoridae) from southern Sri Lanka. Journal of Threatened Taxa, 11(1): 13120-13131. doi:10.11609/jott.3903.11.1.13120-13131

De Silva A., Bauer, A. M., Botejue, M., & Karunarathna, S. (2019). A new species of endemic day gecko (Reptilia: Gekkonidae: Cnemaspis) from a wet zone forest in the second peneplain of Southern Sri Lanka. Amphibian & Reptile Conservation, 13(1), 198-208.

Ermilov, S. G., Khaustov, A. A., and Joharchi, O. (2019). New Oripodoidea (Acari, Oribatida) from Sri Lanka. Systematic & Applied Acarology, 24(4), 613-623. doi:10.11158/saa.24.4.7

Huber, B. A. (2019). The pholcid spiders of Sri Lanka (Araneae: Pholcidae). Zootaxa, 4550(1), 1-57. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.4550.1.1

Ileperuma-Arachchi, I. S., & Benjamin, S. P. (2019). Twigs that are not twigs: Phylogenetic placement of crab spiders of the genus Tmarus of Sri Lanka with comments on the higher-level phylogeny of Thomisidae. Invertebrate Systematics, 33(3), 575-595. doi:10.1071/IS18074

Ileperuma-Arachchi, I. S., & Benjamin, S. P. (2019). The crab spider genus Tarrocanus Simon, 1895 with notes on the genera Alcimochthes Simon, 1895 and Domatha Simon, 1895 (Araneae:Thomisidae). Zootaxa, 4613(3): 587-593. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.4613.3.10

Joharchi, O., Khaustov, A. A., & Ermilov, S. G. (2019). Two new species of Gaeolaelaps Evans & Till (Acari: Laelapidae) from Sri Lanka. Zootaxa, 4615(3): 563-576. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.4615.3.9

Kanesharatnam, N., & Benjamin, S. P. (2019). Multilocus genetic and morphological phylogenetic analysis reveals a radiation of shiny South Asian jumping spiders (Araneae, Salticidae). ZooKeys, 839, 1–81. doi:10.3897/zookeys.839.28312

Karunarathna, S., Bauer, A. M., De Silva, A., Surasinghe, T., Somaratna, L., Madawala, M., Gabadage, D., Botejue, M., Henkanaththegedara, S., & Ukuwela, K. D. B. (2019). Description of a new species of the genus Cnemaspis Strauch, 1887 (Reptilia: Squamata: Gekkonidae) from the Nilgala Savannah forest, Uva Province of Sri Lanka. Zootaxa, 4545(3), 389-407. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.4545.3.4

Karunarathna, S., de Silva, A., Boteju, M., Gabadage, D., Somaratne, L., Hettige, A., Aberathna, N., Madawala, M., Edirisinghe, G., Perera, N., Wickramaarachchi, S., Surasinghe, T., Karunarathna, N., Wickramasinghe, M., Ukuwela, K. D. B., & Bauer, A. M. (2019). Three new species of day geckos (Reptilia: Gekkonidae: Cnemaspis Strauch, 1887) from isolated granite cave habitats in Sri Lanka. Amphibian & Reptile Conservation, 13(2), 323-354.

Kovařík, F., Ranawana, K. B., Jayarathne, V. A. S., Hoferek, D., & Šťáhlavský, F. (2019). Scorpions of Sri Lanka (Arachnida: Scorpiones). Part III. Heterometrus yaleensis sp. n. (Scorpionidae). Euscorpius, 2019(283), 1-13. doi:10.18590/euscorpius.2019.vol2019.iss283.1

Karunarathna S., Poyarkov, N. A., De Silva, A., Madawala, M., Botejue, M., Gorin, V. A., Surasinghe, T., Gabadage, D., Ukuwela, K. D. B.,& Bauer, A. M. (2019). Integrative taxonomy reveals six new species of day geckos of the genus Cnemaspis Strauch, 1887 (Reptilia: Squamata: Gekkonidae) from geographically isolated hill forests in Sri Lanka. Vertebrate Zoology, 69(3), 247-298. doi:10.26049/VZ69-3-2019-02

Karunarathna, S. and Ukuwela, K. D. B. (2019). A new species of dwarf day gecko (Reptilia: Gekkonidae: Cnemaspis) from lower-elevations of Samanala Nature Reserve in Central massif, Sri Lanka. Amphibian & Reptile Conservation, 13(2), 14-27.

Nanayakkara, R. P., Sumanapala, A. P., & Kirk, P. J. (2019). Another from Sri Lanka, after 126 years; Chilobrachys jonitriantisvansicklei sp. nov. (Araneae: Theraphosidae) from a fragmented forest patch in the wet zone of Sri Lanka. British Tarantula Society Journal, 34(2), 25-36.

Weerakoon, G., Aptroot, A., Lücking, R., Arachchige, O., & Wijesundara, S. (2019). Graphis and Allographa (lichenized Ascomycota: Graphidaceae) in Sri Lanka, with six new species and a biogeographical comparison investigating a potential signature of the ‘biotic ferry’ species interchange. The Lichenologist, 51(6), 515-559. doi:10.1017/s0024282919000392

Wickramasinghe, L. J. M., Bandara, I. N., Vidanapathirana, D. R., & Wickramasinghe, N. (2019). A new species of Aspidura Wagler, 1830 (Squamata: Colubridae: Natricinae) from Knuckles, World Heritage Site, Sri Lanka. Zootaxa, 4559(2), 265-280. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.4559.2.3

Zmudzinski, M., Skoracki, M., & Hromada, M. (2019). Neoaulonastus sidorchukae, a new species of quill mites (Acariformes: Syringophilidae) associated with the purple-rumped sunbird Leptocoma zeylonica (Linnaeus) (Passeriformes: Nectariniidae) from Sri Lanka. Zootaxa, 4647(1), 83-087. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.4647.1.8

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