Vikash Sharma

The researchers from the Central University of Odisha (CUO), Koraput, in collaboration with scientists from the Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, Kerala have unearthed two previously unknown species of Megascolex earthworms from the Eastern Ghats of Odisha.

During an earthworm diversity study conducted in different parts of Koraput, Ayusmita Naik collected some large earthworm specimens from Rani Duduma and the Jeypore Ghati area of Koraput.

Under the supervision of Prof. Sharat Kumar Palita, Dean of the School of Biodiversity and Conservation of Natural Resources at the Central University of Odisha (CUO), Koraput, the specimens were carefully examined in the laboratory by the researchers.

Later with the support of Dr. R Paliwal, a Retired Scientist of the Zoological Survey of India and Earthworm specialists Dr. Prasantha Narayanan and Dr AP Thomas of Advanced Centre of Environmental Studies and Sustainable Development at the Mahatma Gandhi University, these two large earthworm varieties were identified as two new species which are completely new to science.

They were identified as Megascolexjeyporeghatiensis and Megascolexquadripappilatus, CUO officials said in a release.

The report of these two new species from Koraput has been published in the reputed international taxonomic journal, Zootaxa. These two new earthworm species belong to Genus Megascolex discovered in the relatively under-explored Eastern Ghats of Odisha state in Peninsular India. They belong to a group of species characterized by two pairs of spermathecal pores in inter-segmental furrows 7/8/9, holandric, seminal vesicles in segments 9 and 12, absence of penial setae and calciferous glands.

These two new species occur in deciduous forests with brownish gravel-loamy soils. These two species are endemic to India: Odisha State: Koraput District: Jeypore Ghati and Rani Duduma.

With this discovery, the total number of Megascolexspecies in the world has increased to 70, of which 34 are found in India. In India, mostly all Megascolex species are restricted to the southern portion of the Western Ghats mountain ranges in the southwest corner of Peninsular India.

These two new species are anecic worms, found to consume fibrous plant material like barks, woody parts, and leafy material including pebbles and rocky soil. As they live in forest soil with high organic biomass, they indicate soil health and maintain soil productivity. Earthworms have the ability to biomonitor soil pollutants are able to perform carbon sequestration and reduce soil pollutants.

The record of these two new species from Koraput in the Eastern Ghats has further highlighted the rich unexplored biodiversity of Koraput as well as the Eastern Ghats region of India, the release said.