Researchers at the Cochin University of Science and Technology (Cusat) have identified a new species of marine tardigrade which they have named after the late former President and scientist A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.
Tardigrades are extremely tiny animals whose size is measured in micrometres. Their microscopic size, however, belies their toughness. They are known for their extraordinary resilience and survival instincts. Studied using microscopes, these water-dwelling animals also go by the rather unlikely moniker ‘water bears.’
The new species, discovered from Mandapam in south-east Tamil Nadu, belongs to the genus Batillipes and has been named Batillipes kalami. A paper on the discovery by Vishnudattan N.K. (research scholar) and S. Bijoy Nandan (Professor) of the Department of Marine Biology, Microbiology and Biochemistry, Cusat, and Marcus Rubal, Centre of Molecular and Environmental Biology, University of Minho, Portugal, has appeared in the latest issue of Zootaxa.
There are a number of aspects that make the discovery important from a scientific perspective: Batillipes kalami is the second marine tardigrade to be discovered from Indian waters and the first one from the east coast. It is also the first taxonomically described species belonging to the genus Batillipes from India, said Dr. Nandan.
In 2021, Mr. Vishnudattan and Dr. Nandan discovered the first marine tardigrade species from India at Vadakara in Kerala. They had named it Stygarctus keralensis.
Size-wise, Batillipes kalami averages 170 micrometres (0.17 mm) in length and around 50 micrometres (0.05 mm) in width. It has a trapezoid-shaped head with sharp-tipped filament-like appendages (cirri) extending from it. All four pairs of legs possess sensory spines of varying length.
“The females are slightly bigger compared to the males,” Mr. Vishnudattan said. The marine species are smaller than their terrestrial counterparts and also tougher to identify.
Some 60 specimens of the species were collected from the intertidal region at Mandapam as part of an effort to better understand the marine tardigrade biodiversity of the Indian subcontinent. Studies of marine tardigrades from Indian waters are very limited and relatively obscure, the Zootaxa paper noted.
The researchers decided to name the species after Dr. Kalam as the discovery was made close to his native place Rameswaram and to honour his commitment to science and technology.
Batillipes kalami is the 37th species of the genus Batillipes. Although Batillipes is a globally distributed genus, previous reports and studies are predominantly Eurocentric. Although three species were reported from Indian waters in the past, they lack proper taxonomic descriptions, making verification impossible, the researchers said.
“In this context, detailed and dedicated studies along the Indian coast need to be conducted in the near future for a better understanding of marine tardigrade biodiversity,” the paper noted.
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