- With the recent discovery of three new day gecko species of the genus Cnemaspis, Sri Lanka’s known endemic day geckos have increased up to 36.
- The diminutive, range-restricted geckos were discovered from granite hills and rock outcrops in three different locations in the Indian Ocean island.
- One of them, Cnemspis kotagamai, is named in honor of an illustrious Sri Lankan conservationist, Sarath Kotagama, while the other two geckos are named after the lead author’s parents.
- While introducing the three critically endangered geckos, researchers have called for urgent conservation efforts to prevent further habitat loss in a bid to conserve the new species and those yet to be discovered.
COLOMBO — A group of Sri Lankan herpetologists closed out 2019 in style: by introducing to science three new gecko species from the biodiverse island that seemingly never ceases to surprise.
With the new discoveries, published in a Dec. 31 study, the number of known day geckos from the genus Cnemaspis in Sri Lanka has reached a total of 36.
Lead author and herpetologist Sameera Suranjan Karunarathna, who was criticized by some ultra-nationalist groups last year for naming new geckos after several national heroes and ancient warriors, this time around named one gecko in honor of a pioneering ornithologist and conservationist, and the other two after his own parents.
The diminutive lizards were described from three isolated granite cave habitats and rock outcrops in three species-rich provinces in Sri Lanka, according to the paper in the journal Amphibian & Reptile Conservation.
All three geckos are considered critically endangered under the IUCN Red List criteria, as they are restricted to wet, cool and shady granite caves and rock outcrops in isolated forested areas.
Severely restricted in their distribution, or point endemic, they occupy habitats that are vulnerable to fragmentation, edge effects and human activities, the paper says, calling for urgent conservation measures.
Honoring a pioneer
The first gecko, Cnemaspis kotagamai, or Kotagama’s day gecko, sports five distinct and irregular brown blotches on its back. The researchers consider it rather a rare species. In the isolated forested hill known as Bambaragala in the species-rich Ratnapura district, Sabaragamuwa province, where it was discovered, the team was able to record only five geckos.
C.kotagamai was named in recognition of the contributions to science made by conservationist and ornithologist Sarath Wimalabandara Kotagama, an emeritus professor at the University of Colombo and technical adviser to Sri Lanka’s Department of Wildlife Conservation.
Karunarathna told Mongabay that the researchers considered it “their collective privilege” to name a rare gecko in recognition of Kotagama’s contribution to wildlife conservation in the island. “His is a name written in gold. He has given this country new knowledge, policies, programs, specialist groups and introduced a new generation of researchers. Few can match his contribution,” Karunarathna said.
Kotagama served the Department of Wildlife Conservation as its director from 1989 to 1990, before taking up his current advisory role. He also heads the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL), the local affiliate of BirdLife International.
The new gecko isn’t the first species named after him: In 2017, an endemic toad was named Duttaphrynus kotagamai, or Kotagama’s dwarf toad, in recognition of his contribution to wildlife conservation in Sri Lanka.
C.kotagamai is restricted to a range of about 100 square kilometers (39 square miles), qualifying it as critically endangered. It most closely resembles the known day gecko species C. ingerorum and C. kallima, according to the paper.
Source of inspiration
For Karunarathna, who counts nearly two decades as a researcher, the new discoveries afforded a unique opportunity: to honor his parents for their support and encouragement throughout his career.
Hence C. dissanayakai, or Dissanayaka’s day gecko, is named after his father, Dissanayake Mudiyanselage Karunarathna.
“My father was one huge source of inspiration. He did everything possible to ensure that I achieved my dreams. I would not have been able to pursue my interest in wildlife research and conservation without him,” Karunarathna said.
Also range-restricted and considered critically endangered, it was discovered in an isolated hill forest in Dimbulagala in Polonnaruwa district, North Central province, where tropical dry-mixed evergreen forests abound.
The third new species, C. kawminiae, or Kawmini’s day gecko, is named after Handunnetti Kawmini Mendis — “the person who gave me my life: my mother,” Karunarathna said.
C.kawminiae was discovered on a moss-covered granite wall in Mandaramnuwara, bordering the Piduruthalagala Mountain Range, home to the tallest mountain in Sri Lanka, nestled in the cool and hilly Nuwara Eliya district in Central province.
The paper notes that most of the Cnemaspis species discovered from the dry and intermediate climatic zones are restricted to small isolated habitats scattered over lowlands. “Future biogeographical studies of Sri Lanka’s Cnemaspis species are likely to highlight the significance of these scattered and isolated habitats, as they appear critical to the survival of many of these point endemic species,” Karunarathna said.
Karunarathna, S., De Silva, A., Botejue, M., Gabadage, D., Somaratna, L., Hettige, A., … 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.
Banner image of the general habitat of C. kotagamai, the picturesque Bambaragala isolated forested hill in the species-rich Ratnapura district, courtesy of Madhava Botejue.