Prelims Spotlight is a part of “Nikaalo Prelims 2020” module. This open crash course for Prelims 2020 has a private telegram group where PDFs and DDS (Daily Doubt Sessions) are being held. Please click here to register.
Species in News
20 April 2020
- Salazar’s pit viper belongs to the genus Trimeresurus Lacépède comprising “charismatic venomous serpents with morphologically as well as ecologically diverse species”.
- Pit vipers are venomous snakes distinguished by their heat-sensing pit organs between the eye and the nostril.
- The name was inspired by Salazar Slytherin, the co-founder of J.K. Rowlings’ fictional Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
IUCN/WPA Status: Least Concern / Schedule I
- Himalayan Ibex (Capra ibex sibirica) is widely found in arid and rocky mountain of Karakoram, Hindukush and Himalayas of Gilgit-Baltistan.
- The males are characterized by heavy body, large horns, long bears while females have small body small horns.
- The threats that Himalayan ibex face are the illegal hunting, human disturbance, habitat loss and competition for forage with domestic livestock.
IUCN Red List Status: Endangered
- The red panda (Ailurus fulgens) is a mammal native to the eastern Himalayas and southwestern China.
- Its wild population is estimated at fewer than 10,000 mature individuals and continues to decline due to habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching, and inbreeding depression.
- Despite its name, it is not closely related to the giant panda
- The animal has been hunted for meat and fur, besides illegal capture for the pet trade.
- An estimated 14,500 animals are left in the wild across Nepal, Bhutan, India, China and Myanmar.
- About 5,000-6,000 red pandas are estimated to be present in four Indian states – Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Sikkim and West Bengal.
- The diminishing habitat is a major threat to the species which is a very selective feeder and survives on selected species of bamboos.
About South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN)
- SAWEN is a Regional network is comprised of eight countries in South Asia: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
- It aims at working as a strong regional intergovernmental body for combating wildlife crime by attempting common goals and approaches for combating illegal trade in the region.
- The South Asia region is very vulnerable to illegal traffic and wildlife crimes due to the presence of precious biodiversity and large markets as well as traffic routes for wildlife products in the south East Asian region.
- The collaboration in harmonizing as well as enforcing the wildlife protection in the region is considered very important for effective conservation of such precious biodiversity.
- India adopted the Statute of the SAWEN and became its formal member in 2016.
IUCN Status: Least Concerned
- The swamp wallaby is a small macropod marsupial of eastern Australia. It is likely the only mammal pregnant and lactating all lifelong.
- Female wallabies and kangaroos have two uteri and two separate ovaries.
- At the end of a pregnancy in one uterus, a new embryo develops in the other uterus.
- Kangaroos and wallabies regularly have an embryo in the uterus, a young joey in the pouch, and a third semi-dependent young at foot, still drinking its mother’s milk.
How it is different from Kangaroo?
- In kangaroos, the new embryo is conceived a day or two after the previous birth.
- In the swamp wallaby (Wallabia bicolor), the new conception happens one or two days before the previous joey is delivered.
- IUCN Status: Near Threatened
- Species in India: Smooth-coated, Asian small-clawed and Eurasian Otters
- Habitat: Smooth-coated — all over India; Asian small-clawed — only in the Himalayan foothills, parts of the Eastern and southern Western Ghats; Eurasian — Western Ghats and Himalayas.
- Diet comprises several small animals, mainly crabs and small fishes.
- Lives in small packs, is mostly nocturnal, but can be diurnal in areas which are less disturbed.
- Tyrannosaurs were one of the largest meat-eating dinosaurs to have ever lived, with very large and high skulls, and the best known among them is the Tyrannosaurus rex, celebrated in the Jurassic Park series.
- The 79-million-year-old fossil that the researchers have found is the oldest tyrannosaur known from northern North America.
- Thanatotheristes preyed on large plant-eating dinosaurs such as the horned xenoceratops and the dome-headed colepiochephale.
- The research suggests that tyrannosaurs did not have one general body type; rather different tyrannosaur species evolved distinct body sizes, skull forms and other such physical features.
- The fossil specimen is important to understand the Late Cretaceous period, which is the period when tyrannosaurs roamed the Earth.
IUCN status: Least Concern
- The Flame-throated Bulbul is endemic to southern peninsular India where it is locally distributed in southern Andhra Pradesh, eastern Karnataka, Goa, Orissa, eastern Kerala and northern Tamil Nadu.
- It prefer habitats like rocky, scrub-covered hills mostly in the Eastern Ghats and central peninsular India but also in some places in the Western Ghats.
- It is a Schedule – IV bird under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
- Archaea (singular archaeon) are a primitive group of microorganisms that thrive in extreme habitats such as hot springs, cold deserts and hypersaline lakes.
- These slow-growing organisms are also present in the human gut, and have a potential relationship with human health.
- They are known for producing antimicrobial molecules, and for anti-oxidant activity with applications in eco-friendly waste-water treatment.
- Archaea are extremely difficult to culture due to challenges in providing natural conditions in a laboratory setting.
- As archaea are relatively poorly studied, very little is known about how archaea behave in the human body.
- The organism has potential gene clusters that helps maintain the metabolism of the archaea to survive in extreme harsh conditions.
- A lone endangered steppe eagle (Aquila nipalensis) has been sighted by a group of birdwatchers in a paddy field near Vijayawada.
- The Steppe Eagle is a migratory raptor which has undergone extremely rapid population declines within all its range.
- It breeds in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia during the winter season.
- Steppe eagle is the second-largest migratory eagle species to India.
- IUCN Status: It has moved from ‘Least Concern’ to ‘Endangered’
IVF of White Rhinos
- Researchers had created another embryo — the third — of the nearly extinct northern white rhino. This is seen as a remarkable success in an ongoing global mission to keep the species from going extinct.
- IVF is a type of assisted reproductive technology used for infertility treatment and gestational surrogacy.
- A fertilised egg may be implanted into a surrogate’s uterus, and the resulting child is genetically unrelated to the surrogate.
- Some countries have banned or otherwise regulate the availability of IVF treatment, giving rise to fertility tourism.
- Restrictions on the availability of IVF include costs and age, in order for a woman to carry a healthy pregnancy to term.
- IVF is generally not used until less invasive or expensive options have failed or been determined unlikely to work.
Types of Rhinos
- The northern white is one of the two subspecies of the white (or square-lipped) rhinoceros, which once roamed several African countries south of the Sahara.
- The other subspecies, the southern white is, by contrast, the most numerous subspecies of rhino, and is found primarily in South Africa.
- There is also the black (or hook-lipped) rhinoceros in Africa, which too, is fighting for survival, and at least three of whose subspecies are already extinct.
- The Indian rhinoceros is different from its African cousins, most prominently in that it has only one horn.
- There is also a Javan rhino, which too, has one horn, and a Sumatran rhino which, like the African rhinos, has two horns.
- Greylag goose, a migratory specie was recently spotted in Telangana
- This is the third recorded sighting of the large-sized bird in Telangana, which makes it ‘eligible’ to be the latest addition to the State’s exhaustive list of birds.
- As per scientific and accepted norms, a species has to be seen three different times in three different places, or by three independent observers, before it can be accepted as an addition to a State’s list.
- The Greylag geese are common visitors to North India in winters, and are found mostly in wetlands there feeding generally on aquatic weeds and grass.
- IUCN Status: Least Concerned.
- The Chinese paddlefish (Psephurus gladius) was an iconic species, measuring up to 7 m in length, dating back from 200 million years ago, and therefore swimming the rivers when dinosaurs ruled the Earth.
- Its ancestral home was the Yangtze River.
- It was once common in the Yangtze, before overfishing and habitat fragmentation — including dam building — caused its population to dwindle from the 1970s onwards.
- Between 1981 and 2003, there were just around 210 sightings of the fish. The researchers estimate that it became functionally extinct by 1993, and extinct sometime between 2005-2010.
- The Senna spectabilis species was planted as avenue trees in Wayanad. The vayal ecosystem (marshy land) of the forest area now has this plant in large numbers.
- The spread is posing a major threat to the forest areas of the reserve, owing to its quick growth and coppicing character.
- The tree species was found in nearly 10 sq km area of the 344.44 sq km sanctuary around five years ago.
- The plant has started to invade the adjacent Bandipur and Nagarhole tiger reserves in Karnataka and the Mudumalai tiger reserve in Tamil Nadu.
- Now, it had invaded to more than 50 sq km of the sanctuary Wayanad WLS.
- A recent study of the Ferns Nature Conservation Society recorded the presence of the plant in 78.91 sq km area of the sanctuary.
- Locusts are certain species of short-horned grasshoppers that have a swarming phase.
- Swarming refers to a collective behaviour in which locusts aggregate together just like flocks of birds.
- These insects are usually solitary, but under certain circumstances they become more abundant and change their behaviour and habits, becoming grouped.
- They form bands of wingless nymphs which later become swarms of winged adults.
- Both the bands and the swarms move around and rapidly strip fields and cause damage to crops.
- The adults are powerful fliers; they can travel great distances, consuming most of the green vegetation wherever the swarm settles.
- IUCN conservation status: Least Concern.
- The Bar-headed geese (Anser Indicus) are found in central China and Mangolia and they breed there.
- They start migration to the Indian sub-continent during the winter and stay here till the end of the season.
- They return to their homes by crossing the Himalayan ranges.
- Their migration has been a fascination for birders as they cross the Himalayas on one of the most high-altitude migrations in the world.
- Caterpillar fungus (Ophiocordyceps Sinensis) is a fungal parasite of larvae (caterpillars) that belongs to the ghost moth.
- It is endemic to the Tibetan Plateau, including the adjoining high Himalaya (3,200-4,500 metres above sea level).
- It is locally known as Kira Jari (in India), Yartsagunbu (in Tibet), Yarso Gumbub (Bhutan), Dong Chong Xia Cao (China) and Yarsagumba (in Nepal).
- In the Indian Himalayas, the species has been documented in the region from the alpine meadows of protected areas such as Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, Askot Wildlife Sanctuary, Kanchendzonga Biosphere Reserve and Dehan-Debang Biosphere Reserve.
About Gangetic Dolphins
- The Gangetic river dolphins can only live in freshwater, are blind and catch their prey in a unique manner, using ultrasonic sound waves.
- These dolphins prefer deep waters and, as per WWF, they are distributed across seven states in India: Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal.
- Their numbers have dwindled in the last few decades mainly because of direct killing, habitat fragmentation by dams and barrages and indiscriminate fishing.
- The Gangetic river dolphins were officially discovered in 1801 and are one of the oldest creatures in the world along with some species of turtles, crocodiles and sharks, a/c to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
- They once lived in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and Karnaphuli-Sangu river systems of Nepal, India, and Bangladesh, but are now mostly extinct from many of its early distribution ranges, as per WWF.
- In 2009, the Gangetic dolphins were declared India’s National Aquatic animal during the first meeting of the erstwhile National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA).
- It is placed under the “endangered” category by the IUCN.
- Additionally, the Gangetic dolphins have been included in Schedule -I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, which means they have the highest degree of protection against hunting.
- They are also one among the 21 species identified under the centrally sponsored scheme, “Development of Wildlife Habitat”.
- It was found under fallen logs inside a thickly forested area of the Tally Valley Wildlife Sanctuary near the town of Ziro in Arunachal Pradesh during a field expedition by researchers in July 2019.
- It belongs to a group of fossorial snakes that live mostly underground, and surface mainly during or after a heavy monsoon shower.
- Due to the burrowing habits of species of this genus, snakes belonging to the group are seldom seen and hence remain poorly studied.
- This could have been one of the reasons that the species had eluded the researchers.
- Over 150 million years ago, enormous reptiles swam the Jurassic oceans.
- The largest aquatic carnivorous reptiles that have ever lived, they are often dubbed “sea monsters”.
- Scientifically, they are placed in the suborder Pliosauroidea, whose members are called pliosaurs.
- Interest in these giants has been revived with the recent discovery of their bones in a cornfield in the Polish village of Krzyzanowice. Remains of pliosaurs are rare in Europe.
What makes them special?
- They measured over 10 metres in length and could weigh up to several dozen tons.
- They had powerful, large skulls and massive jaws with large, sharp teeth.
- Their limbs were in the form of fins.
- The Swietokrzyskie Mountains are a mountain range in central Poland.
- In the Jurassic era, the Swietokrzyskie Mountains area is believed to have been an archipelago of islands, where there were warm lagoons and shallow sea reservoirs, home to the marine reptiles discovered by the palaeontologists.
- The locality where the remains were discovered is considered to be rich in the fossils of coastal reptiles. Researchers now hope to find more remains in the coming months.