New skink species discovery on Yemeni island

This video is on Socotra in Yemen.

From Wildlife Extra:

New species of skink discovered on Socotra Archipelago

Unique biodiversity

May 2012. The Socotra Archipelago, in the north-west Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia, is considered to be one of the most biodiversity rich group of islands in the world, thanks to a very distinct fauna and flora with a high level of endemicity at both species and generic levels.

UNESCO World Heritage Site

For this reason, it has been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Natural site in 2008. Nevertheless, the natural history of most groups is still not clear, and their origin and evolution remain unknown.

A team of researchers from the Department of Animal Biology (Università di Pavia, Italy), the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (CSIC-UPF, Barcelona, Spain), the Museo Civico di Storia Naturale di Carmagnola (Italy) and the Museum of Science of Trento (Italy), have been investigating the herpetofauna of the archipelago since 2007, in the framework of the ‘Socotra Conservation and Development Project‘ funded by the Cooperazione Italiana and under the auspices of the United Nations Development Project (UNDP) to collect ecological data on the reptiles of the Socotra Archipelago in order to improve the sustainable development and conservation of the Socotra Archipelago’s biodiversity.

In a recent paper, the team presented some new highlights on the systematics, biogeography and evolution of Trachylepis socotrana, the only endemic reptile (a skink) supposed to live in all four islands (Socotra, Darsa, Samha and Abd Al Kuri). By comparing the skinks of the archipelago with representatives of the genus Trachylepis from Middle East, Africa and Madagascar plus some individuals from each of the other three genera of Mabuya skinks sensu lato (Chioninia, Eutropis and Mabuya), they have been able to trace back the history of the Socotran skinks.

Trachylepis cristinae is a newly described species occurring only on Abd Al Kuri island

Skink arrived on Socotra twice, 3 million years apart

Interestingly, the results of the phylogenetic analyses indicate that members of the genus Trachylepis arrived in the archipelago in two independent events, firstly colonizing Socotra, Samha and Darsa about 10 million years ago, and then, 3 million years ago, colonizing Abd Al Kuri Island, when all the islands had already drifted away from the mainland.

New species

Furthermore, the Abd Al Kuri skink has proved to be a distinct new species, named by the authors Trachylepis cristinae, to credit the herpetologist who found the holotype while the team was surveying the island. This finding also means that reptiles of Abd Al Kuri, the westernmost island of the archipelago, are, without exception, all endemic to the island.

Once again, the Socotra Archipelago proves to be one of the most unique places in the world to witness and investigate evolutionary processes, and indeed is worthy of its nickname of “Galapagos of the Indian Ocean”.

No extinctions in 20th century

And worthy of similar note, as Kay Van Damme remarks in Nature – Middle East, Socotra has lost none of its unique terrestrial bird, reptile or mollusc species in the last century, contrary to what happened in many other islands in the world. Though, the archipelago is not invulnerable.

Challenges include habitat fragmentation, over-exploitation and loss of traditional knowledge. Tourism, which exponentially increased in recent years, could also be a threat for the most protected -and thus visited- sanctuaries in the islands. But the main concern is nowadays represented by political instability that spreads across Middle East. As Van Damme underlines, political upheavals in Yemen will initiate changes in decision-making on long-term policies and conservation strategies that, in the end, will affect the Socotra Archipelago biodiversity for decades to come.

Skinks in the USA: here.

A walking cactus, a wandering leg sausage, a snub-nosed monkey that sneezes when it rains and a blue tarantula are among a list of the top 10 newly discovered species announced by Arizona State University today: here.

New lizard species discovered on Socotra island

The newly discovered gecko species of Socotra, photo Fabio Pupin

From National Geographic:

“Misunderstood” Gecko Discovered

September 24, 2009—After millions of years of obscurity, this little gecko is finally getting some respect, thanks to a new study.

Newly identified as its own species, the tiny pinkish-brown gecko, which scurries through rocky habitat on the Arabian Sea island of Socotra, was long thought to be another kind of gecko.

“That’s why we chose to call it the Latin word for ‘misunderstood,'” said study co-author Fabio Pupin.

The gecko’s new scientific name, Gekkonidae, Hemidactylus initellectus, roughly translates to “misunderstood half-toed gecko.”

During field surveys between 2007 and 2009, Pupin and colleagues had observed and collected several of the roughly two-inch-long (five-centimeter-long) geckos.

The team then compared H. initellectus’ genetics and physical appearance with those of similar gecko species, including some museum specimens. The gecko turned out to be unique—large nodules on its back, for example, set the lizard apart. The team reports its findings in the September issue of the journal Acta Herpetologica.

The newly named, nocturnal lizard adds to the “incredible” uniqueness of the Yemeni island, where 95 percent of the native reptiles are found nowhere else on Earth, said Pupin, an ecologist at the University of Pavia in Italy.

Situated between Somalia and Yemen, the 62-mile-long (100-kilometer-long) island is like “a desert in the middle of the ocean,” he said. Six million years of isolation from the mainland—and little competition—has allowed Galápagos-like diversity to flourish.

Though H. initellectus is a common sight on Socotra, some of the island‘s other wild animals and plants may be threatened by goats and other animals kept by a booming human population, said Pupin, who hopes news of the misunderstood gecko will lead to greater understanding of the need for conservation.

“When you discover a new species, you show to all the people how great nature is,” he said. “If we don’t know what we have in our planet, we cannot protect it.”

—Christine Dell’Amore

Photograph courtesy Fabio Pupin

Common lizard swimming in the Netherlands: here.

New insect discoveries on Socotra: here.

The ‘lost world’ of Socotra, a remote island with plants up to 20 MILLION years old. Read more: here.

Golden-winged grosbeak is Yemen’s national bird

This video is called Socotra Yemen Heaven On Earth.

From BirdLife:


The Yemen Council of Ministers has recently approved the Golden-winged Grosbeak as Yemen’s national bird. This colourful bird, with a huge beak for eating fruits and seeds, occurs in Saudi Arabia, Oman and Yemen.

Yemen has also chosen the Arabian Leopard Panthera pardus nimr as the national mammal, the Dragon Blood Tree Dracaena cinnabari as the national tree, and the Aloe Aloe irafensis as the national plant.

See here.

The Arabian leopard: a charismatic species about to be lost forever? Here.

The unique flora and fauna of Socotra island, Yemen


From the New York Times in the USA:

The Wonder Land of Socotra, Yemen

… Until that moment I’d had no clear idea what exactly frankincense was; nor that it derives from the sap of a tree; nor that, as Ahmed explained, Socotra is home to nine species of the tree, all unique to the island. …

Some 250 million years or more ago, when all the planet’s major landmasses were joined and most major life-forms were just a gleam in some evolutionary eye, Socotra already stood as an island apart.

According to Wikipedia, Socotra detached ca 6 million years ago.

Ever since, it has been gathering birds, seeds and insects off the winds and cultivating one of the world’s most unusual collections of organisms.

In addition to frankincense, Socotra is home to myrrh trees and several rare birds.

Its marine life is a unique hybrid of species from the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific.

In the 1990s, a team of United Nations biologists conducted a survey of the archipelago’s flora and fauna.

They counted nearly 700 endemic species, found nowhere else on earth; only Hawaii and the Galapagos Islands have more impressive numbers. …

Encouraged by a United Nations development plan, Socotra has opted to avoid mass tourism: no beachfront resorts; instead, small, locally owned hotels and beachfront campsites.

The prize is that rarest of tourists, eco-tourists: those who know the little known and reach the hard to reach, who will come eager to see the Socotra warbler, the loggerhead turtle, the dragon’s blood tree — anything, please, but their own reflection.