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Scientists have discovered a new species of limbless lizard from Orissa's Khandadhar hills. "This 19-cm-long lizard looks like a scaly, small snake," says Sushil Kumar Dutta, a zoologist from the North Orissa University, Baripada, who led the team of researchers on a field study to the hills in Sundergarh district.
According to the researchers, the skink is endemic to the region and prefers to live in the cool retreat of thick forest zones under stones and near hill streams. It is a very fast burrower and immediately enters the soil if it senses danger. "Preliminary study reveals that the skink belongs to the family scincidae of genus Sepsophis. However, its species name will be decided later after further scientific studies," says Dutta. The finding has led to the discovery of the genus Sepsophis after 137 years. Another species of the same genus was reported in 1870 from Andhra Pradesh's Golconda hills.The other limbless lizards recorded till now belong to the family dibamidae and anguidae, and are found in the Southeast Asia, Nicobar Islands, northeast India and southeast India. According to Dutta, the discovery has bio-geographic importance, as closest relatives of the new species are also found in Sri Lanka and South Africa, a part of Gondwana land like India.
The discovery holds significance because the Khandadhar hills are rich in iron ore and are at present mired in controversy after the state government proposed to lease it to the South Korean Pohang Steel Company for its mega steel project.
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