Van Gogh’s gecko discovered, appears to have ‘starry night’ painted on its back

A new species of gecko was discovered in India: the colors resemble van Gogh’s “Starry Night”, so it was named Cnemapsis vangoghi.

  • A gecko with the colors of van Gogh’s “Starry Night” on its back was discovered in India
  • Thanks to genetic analyses, it was possible to identify two new species of the genus Cnemapsis
  • Our goal is to discover up to 50 new species in the Western Ghats region

In the Western Ghats, in the state of Tamil Nadu in the south-west of the Indian peninsula, well hidden amidst the low-lying deciduous forests of the town of Srivilliputhur, two new species of geckos in the genus Cnemapsis appeared in the world of science. Coloring one of the two is so beautiful that reminiscent of the painting “Starry Night” by van Gogh, and for this reason the painters dedicated it by calling it Cnemapsis vangoghivan Gogh’s gecko.

Van Gogh’s gecko

In April 2022, a group of researchers set out on their journey a very challenging mission: discover the biodiversity that lies on the eastern slopes of the Western Ghats in Tamil Nadu, a little-known region but with incredibly diverse fauna. So after more than 20 thousand kilometers traveledseveral months, hundreds of tick bites and no results to take home, Ishan Agarwal along with the Thackeray Wildlife Foundation team in Mumbai, they were struck by a small piece of art.

A small gecko with a star body3-4 centimeters long covered in mustard-colored swirls dipped in cobalt blue, which when read like this looks like a description of van Gogh’s “Starry Night”. first example C. vangoghi found in the Srivilliputhur-Megamalai Tiger Reserve, it is a male very similar to another species Cnemaspis recently discovered so-called C. galaxy. Just thanksDNA analysis it was possible to define it as a genetically distinct species. Females with slight dimorphism in color were also found during surveys. In fact, women represent much less bright colors, more prone to brownishness. This male brilliance certainly makes him more visible to predators, but females prefer the brightest males: long live sexual selection!

Genetic analyzes help us describe new species

The C. vangoghi was not the only discovered species of this genus together with it was also discovered Cnemaspis sathuragiriensis, which takes its name from where it is located, the Sathuragiri Hills. “One of the reasons we are discovering so many species is the availability of data and molecular analysis that allows us to identify two species that are very similar to each other but genetically different,” Agarwal said.

The discovery was published in the journal ZooKeys at the end of March. Currently threats that lurk around the corner they are not yet known for these species, however, their habitat is protected in a Tiger Reserve, a special security that many other species unfortunately do not have. Also the conformation of the area it did not allow for human developmentthe steep and mountainous terrain really complicated access even for the researchers themselves.

A biodiversity hotspot that is still little known

If we look back in time, twenty years ago Cnenaspis only a handful were known. Today, however, there are more than a hundred of them in India and Sri Lanka alone. There are approximately 2,300 species worldwide Cnenaspis and new geckos are constantly being described thanks to research and genetic analyses, India, which is very rich in biodiversity but little explored, dominates this panorama. For this reason the research group aims to discover at least 50 new species never described. Who knows if there will be another kind in the style of the artwork.

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