• Tue. Nov 29th, 2022

A Free Field Guide to the Snakes and Lizards of the Sky Islands of the Western Ghats

ByKeith M. Jones

Aug 29, 2022

Ecologists, wildlife enthusiasts and conservationists now have a freely accessible illustrated field guide book on the snakes and lizards found along the southern regions of the Western Ghat.

Researchers associated with the Aranyakam Nature Foundation recently compiled a list of 58 species of these reptiles that are commonly found in the southern Sky Islands of the Western Ghats – a biodiversity hotspot recognized by UNESCO. Sky Islands are unique high-altitude forest grasslands and are often intertwined by different habitats.

The eBook titled ‘Snakes and Lizards of the Sky Islands of the Western Ghats’ is the result of multiple field trips since early 2020 and previous work by researchers Deepak V, Sandeep Das, Surya Narayanan, Rajkumar KP, Saunak Pal, Jason Gerard and David Gower.

This group mainly focused on snakes and lizards, as these are the reptiles found at over 1,500 meters above mean sea level in this region.

“Animals between these grasslands cannot move towards each other due to the presence of unique habitats in each of these grasslands. Thus, a unique evolution occurs within these grasslands due to their restricted movements. Our goal was to understand reptile behavior and what connects these reptiles found in the Sky Islands to each other,” Narayanan explained.

As part of this project funded by the National Geography Society, conservationists visited these grasslands along the Nilgiris, Anamalai, Meghamalai and Agasthyamalai hill ranges. Some 20 to 25 independent group trips were required to compile the list of 30 species of snakes and 28 species of lizards found mostly at more than 1,500 meters above mean sea level, with the exception of some above the Agasthyamalai (more than 1,000 meters above mean sea level).

The book contains photographs of confirmed showy reptiles along with their brief descriptions, while some species have been given images of both sexes as well as color variations exhibited by these reptiles.

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While the digital version is freely available to everyone, researchers have made printed copies available to schools around Ooty, Kodaikanal and surrounding areas.

“We hope to inspire other research groups to undertake similar documentation work and create guides to other taxa,” he said.