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Scientists discover cryptic Salamander species hidden in the mystical mountain lakes of Manipur

Aizawl: In a thrilling adventure that took them deep into the remote landscapes of Manipur, Northeastern India, a team of intrepid scientists has unveiled a remarkable discovery. Their journey into the heart of the Khongtheng Mountain Range led to the discovery of a new cryptic species within the genus Tylototriton, long concealed among the enigmatic amphibians of the region. The newfound species, Tylototriton zaimeng, has been mistaken for its close relatives, T himalayanus and T verrucosus, until now. Merging molecular and morphological evidence, the researchers uncovered the hidden secrets of this captivating creature, providing fresh insights into its unique characteristics and ecological significance. 

Deep within the mysterious mountain lakes of Manipur, an expedition of dedicated scientists embarked on an adventure of a lifetime, driven by the desire to unlock the secrets of the natural world. Among them, Dr. Ht. Decemson, Hmar Tlawmte Lalremsanga, Premjit Singh Elangbam, Mathipi Vabeiryureilai, Parag Shinde, Jayaditya Purkayastha, Dmitriy V. Arkhipov, Andrey M. Bragin, and Nikolay A. Poyarkov, with Prof. H.T. Lalremsanga and Dr.Nikolay A. Poyarkov standing out as the leading minds behind this extraordinary journey.

Their quest was no ordinary mission; it was an integrative taxonomic analysis, merging the powerful tools of molecular research and the keen eye of morphological examination. Their goal was to uncover the hidden mysteries of the Tylototriton verrucosus species group, whose members had long kept their identities concealed, confusing even the most experienced herpetologists.

In their pursuit of knowledge, the scientists found themselves mesmerized by a creature they had never encountered before, a medium-sized salamander unlike any other. The Tylototriton zaimeng, as they would later name it, revealed itself with distinct characteristics that set it apart from its close relatives. Its head was massive and wide, with a rounded snout and protruding supratemporal bony ridges, while a well-developed sagittal ridge adorned its crown.

The creature’s limbs, short and elegantly formed, did not overlap when adpressed along its body. A wide and unsegmented vertebral ridge ran along its back, accompanied by 13–14 pairs of rib nodules, marking a clear distinction from its kin. Tylototriton zaimeng displayed a stunning brown coloration, embellished with dull orange to yellowish-brown markings ON its head, vertebral ridge, rib nodules, palms, soles, vent, and ventral tail ridge. Vomerine teeth, elegantly organized in two distinctly curved bell-shaped series, further differentiated this mysterious creature.

Yet, the journey of discovery did not end with mere morphological revelations. The scientists delved deeper into the molecular realm, analyzing the ND2 and 16S rRNA MITOCHONDRIAL DNA genes of Tylototriton zaimeng. The results confirmed that this cryptic species belonged to Clade I of the subgenus Tylototriton, and astonishingly, it emerged as a sister species to T. panwaensis and T. houi. The genetic divergence, with a p-distance of 3.0% in the ND2 gene, underscored the uniqueness of this newly uncovered species.

While the thrill of discovery was palpable, the scientists also recognized the significance of their findings for conservation efforts. The range of Tylototriton zaimeng IS confined to the mystical Khongtheng Mountain Range, distinct from the territories of T. panwaensis and T. houi, which occupied regions in northern Myanmar and southern China. Such isolation and limited distribution prompted the researchers to advocate for the inclusion of Tylototriton zaimeng in the IUCN Red List as a Vulnerable (VU) species, emphasizing the need for conservation efforts to protect this enigmatic creature and its fragile habitat.

The chosen epithet “zaimeng” stems from the captivating Liangmei dialect term, translating to “Puzzle Lake” or “Mystery Lake.” This captivating name is a nod to the remarkable Zaimeng Lake nestled within Koubru Forest Division. This very lake unveiled the pioneering revelation of crocodile newts in Manipur. The name beautifully encapsulates the ancestral saga of the Zeliangrong lineage from Thonglang Village. Enthralled by the lake’s enigma, these forebears wandered endlessly, trapped in mesmerizing circles.

The tale of Tylototriton zaimeng, the cryptic salamander species from the depths of Manipur’s mountain lakes, is one of adventure, perseverance, and discovery. As the scientific world celebrates this groundbreaking revelation, it reminds us that hidden wonders lie within the most mysterious corners of our planet, awaiting the intrepid souls who dare to seek them. With every revelation, the bond between humanity and the natural world strengthens, urging us to protect and cherish the treasures that nature so generously shares with us.

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