In 1877 a British lieutenant colonel and naturalist named R.H. Beddome looked under a rock in the Indian state of Orissa and discovered a new gecko species. That was the last time it was ever seen. Until now.

After more than 135 years, the Jeypore ground gecko (Geckoella Jeyporensis) has been rediscovered by a team of scientists from the Centre for Ecological Sciences (CES) at the Indian Institute of Science, the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and Villanova University. The scientists started the search in 2008 as part of an effort to increase the knowledge base about the entire Geckoella genus.

As reported by The Press Trust of India, CES Ph.D. student Ishan Agarwal started the quest for this and other lost species by searching the little bit of published information that was available. He and his fellow researchers didn't have much to go on. The original mention of the species said that it had been found in a forest on Patinghe Hill (a bit of a misnomer, since the "hill" actually has an elevation of nearly 1,300 meters).

Agarwal and his colleagues had no photos of Beddome's lizard, but they did have his description from his 1877 paper in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London:

Of stout form. Body covered with large hexagonal or nearly square scales in only about eighteen rows across, a few about the vertical line being a little reduced in size ; scales of the belly smaller and rounded behind, in about thirty series across. Head covered with small, bead-like, rounded scales ; upper labials ten, the last two very small ; lower labials seven, the last minute ; median lower labial large, pointed behind, with a large pair of chin-shields behind it; subcaudals larger than the scales of the belly. Tail with two tubercles on each side close to the vent; pupil elliptic; opening of the ear subhorizontal. Colour of a light grey, irregularly blotched with dark brown ; head with small blotches ; nape with two large lunate blotches, one behind the other; body with three 8–shaped blotches, which, however, do not meet, and smaller intermediate markings ; tail irregularly blotched.Length 3.5 inches; no femoral nor praeanal pores.

With that scant information in hand, the team set out searching in high-elevation locations in Orissa and the neighboring state of Andhra Pradesh. They didn't hold much hope, but it seems that fate was on their side. The found the gecko in both provinces. The results of their search are published in the journal Hamadryad (which does not have an online edition).

Co-author Varad Giri with the BNHS told the Press Trust that the rediscovered species is "one of the most beautiful Indian geckos" and that it lives in very specialized semi-evergreen forest habitats above 1,000 meters. Those regions, meanwhile, aren't all that safe for the gecko, as the forests are rapidly being cut down to make way for coffee plantations and other agriculture. Mining also poses a threat to the region, which has no protections in place.

Giri said that many Indian species like the Jeypore ground gecko aren't really lost. They just haven't been sought out by trained biologists. "Time is running out for many species in the wake of immense changes in the natural system triggered by the human species. There is an urgent need for trained biologists to undertake country-wide surveys on a number of groups," he said.

Photo: Ishan Agarwal