Further conservation measures are required to protect Vietnamese reptiles, such as the psychedelic rock gecko (Cnemaspis psychedelica), from habitat loss and overharvesting, concludes a new report, published in the open-access scientific journalNature Conservation.
Having identified areas of high reptile diversity and large numbers of endangered species, the study provides a list of the 50 most threatened species as a guide for further research and conservation action in Vietnam.
The study, based on the bachelor thesis of Lilli Stenger (University of Cologne, Germany), recommends IUCN CPSG’s One Plan Approach to Conservation measures, which, next to improved habitat conservation, also involves increasing the number of threatened species in breeding stations and zoos to maintain populations suitable for restocking.
The scientists identified 484 reptile species known to Vietnam, aiming to provide a baseline to authorities, conservationists, rescue centers, and zoos, so they can follow up with appropriate conservation measures for endangered species. They note that the number is likely to go up, as the country is regarded as a top biodiversity hotspot, and the rate of new reptile species discoveries remains high.
According to the IUCN Red List, 74 of the identified species are considered threatened with extinction, including 34 endemic species. For more than half of Vietnam’s endemic reptiles (85 of 159), the IUCN Red List status is either missing or outdated, and further research is imperative for these species, the researchers say.
Vietnam has a high level of reptile diversity and an outstanding number of endemic species. The species richness maps in the study revealed the Central Annamites in central Vietnam to harbor the highest endemic species diversity (32 species), which highlights it as a site of particular importance for reptile conservation. Alarmingly, a protected area analysis showed that 53 of the 159 endemic species (33.2%) including 17 threatened species, have been recorded exclusively from unprotected areas, such as the Psychedelic Rock Gecko.
In General, Vietnam is considered a country with high conservation priority due to habitat loss and overharvesting for trade, traditional medicine and food.
Globally, reptiles are considered a group of special conservation concern, as they play an important role in almost all ecosystems and often have relatively small distribution ranges, making them especially vulnerable to human threats.
Stenger L, Große Hovest A, Nguyen TQ, Pham CT, Rauhaus A, Le MD, Rödder D, Ziegler T (2023) Assessment of the threat status of reptile species from Vietnam – Implementation of the One Plan Approach to Conservation. Nature Conservation 53: 183 221. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.53.106923
A spectacular crocodile newt from the Central Highlands of Vietnam was just published in the international peer-reviewed open-access academic journal ZooKeys.
“It is an exceptional discovery as it is one of the most colourful species in the genus Tylototriton. This is also the first time that a crocodile newt species is recorded from the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Occurring at elevations from 1,800 to 2,300 m above sea level, this discovery sets an elevational record for the genus in the country, with former distribution ranges between 250 m and 1,740 m.”
says discoverer and first author of the study Trung My Phung.
The habitat of the new species is located approximately 370 air km away from the nearest Tylototriton population, which makes it an important discovery in terms of evolution and zoogeography.
The name “ngoclinhensis” refers to the type locality of the new species, Ngoc Linh Mountain. Restricted to evergreen montane forest, the Ngoc Linh Crocodile Newt is currently known only from the Ngoc Linh Nature Reserve, Kon Tum Province, in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. This is the eighth salamander taxon described from Vietnam, and is the thirty-ninth Tylototriton species officially recognized.
Crocodile newts, scientifically known as the genus Tylototriton,include nearly 40 species inhabiting montane forest areas throughout the Asian monsoon climate zone. Remarkably, 15 of these species have been described in the past five years, and there remain several unnamed taxa, which contain cryptic species that are morphologicallydifficult to distinguish.
Established in 1986, Ngoc Linh Nature Reserve is a key biodiversity area for rare species like the endangered Golden-winged Laughingthrush and the Truong Son Muntjac. The Ngoc Linh Crocodile Newt certainly will represent another flagship species of this protected area and its surroundings, say the researchers.
This recent discovery is another remarkable case, “demonstrating that the Central Highlands play a special role in Vietnamese amphibian diversification and evolution,” by the words of co-author Dr. Cuong The Pham from IEBR.
The Ngoc Linh Crocodile Newt belongs to the group of range-restricted, so-called micro-endemic species, which face the greatest risk of extinction because of their presumably small population size. Unfortunately, on top of its special zoogeographic situation and rarity, its particularly colorful appearance will likely make it highly attractive to illegal collectors.
“This has already been successfully implemented for another recently discovered, micro-endemic crocodile newt species from Vietnam, Tylototriton vietnamensis, of which already more than 350 individuals could have successfully been reproduced at the Cologne Zoo in Germany and also at the Melinh Station for Biodiversity in Vietnam, which is a promising example for IUCN’s Reverse the Red campaign and the idea of the conservation zoo”,
says Prof. Dr. Thomas Ziegler, Vietnam conservation team member and coordinator from Cologne Zoo, Germany.
Phung TM, Pham CT, Nguyen TQ, Ninh HT, Nguyen HQ, Bernardes M, Le ST, Ziegler T, Nguyen TT (2023) Southbound – the southernmost record of Tylototriton (Amphibia, Caudata, Salamandridae) from the Central Highlands of Vietnam represents a new species. ZooKeys 1168: 193-218. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1168.96091
Now, the first author of the study, PhD student Camila G. Meneses (University of Kansas), who was awarded at SAGE 2022 for her poster: “A New Species of Fringed Forest Gecko, Genus Luperosaurus (Squamata: Gekkonidae), from Sibuyan Island, Central Philippines” joins us for an interview, sharing some further insights into her research and recent publication.
Congratulations for your Best Poster award at SAGE 2022! Can you introduce the topic of your poster to our readers? How does it fit in the broader context of your research?
The poster is entitled “A New Species of Fringed Forest Gecko, Genus Luperosaurus (Squamata: Gekkonidae), from Sibuyan Island, Central Philippines”. We are currently describing a new species of one of the rarest endemic Philippine lizards which corresponds to the Sibuyan Island population in central Philippines.
It is a poorly understood Southeast Asian and Southwest Pacific genus Luperosaurus, known popularly as fringed geckos, wolf geckos, or flap-legged geckos, and is documented here for the first time.
In the context of my research, visualizing historical, dry land connections that were once shared among modern islands has been crucial for understanding the distribution of biodiversity in the Philippines, an archipelago in which sea level oscillations during the Pleistocene undoubtedly influenced the assembly of regionalized floras and faunas. Sibuyan Island, separated by deep-water channels from neighboring landmasses, harbors distinct communities of amphibians and reptiles, many of which are island endemics.
Happy to see your Annotated List of Species for amphibians and reptiles from the central Philippines, which just got published in the open-access journal Check List. Can you tell us a bit more about the biodiversity of the region and what made you and your co-authors choose it for your survey?
Centers of endemism in the Philippine archipelago coincide with the physiography of the greater Pleistocene Aggregate Islands Complexes (PAICs) of Luzon, Palawan, Negros-Panay (West Visayan islands), Mindoro, Mindanao, and the Sulu Archipelago during Pliocene and Pleistocene sea level regressions according to Inger (1954) and Voris ( 2000). However, until relatively recently, little attention was paid to fully inventorying smaller islands like those in central Romblon Province. The province is not only known for its beautiful landscapes but also the seascape.
Sibuyan was identified as a focal site for this study because of its unique complex ecosystem with notable geologic history that contributed to its high endemism—oceanic origin, geographic isolation, elevational relief, and relatively intact forests. In addition, Sibuyan Island presents biogeographically compelling questions relating to the colonization history of organisms that could only have arrived on Sibuyan by dispersing over water .
We also considered that a comprehensive characterization of the diversity and distribution of amphibians and reptiles of Mount Guiting-Guiting would be highly desirable on the part of the local government, specifically the Protected Management Board and the regional Department of Environment and Natural Resources (Region IV-B) for future management planning. The additional information and data will strengthen their existing conservation programs, ideally by engaging local communities, wildlife managers, ecotourists, and university researchers in Romblon Province.
What are some of the unique or unexpected challenges you encounter in doing biogeographic research? How do you tackle them?
This is my first co-led (with the late young mammalogist, James Alvarez) big expedition in the country. The most challenging aspects for us as students this time are getting funding to do ridge to reef sampling for each season (wet and dry season), the inaccessibility of the area, and the unexpected natural calamities when we are at the peak of the mountain.
Biodiversity conservation efforts often depend on cooperation with non-experts in the field and wider support within the local community. What is the most important message that you hope your research helps transmit to the general audience?
Our knowledge of the endemic species diversity in these islands is still incomplete. It is of crucial importance to continue long-term, repeated biodiversity survey efforts that utilize a multifaceted approach and integration of an independent data stream for the understanding of small islands’ species community composition.
We encourage the conservation of the island’s seascape and landscape (one of the well-known tourist spots in the country), and we highly encourage interested students in nearby universities to continue studying the richly biodiverse areas in the province.
Finding excitement in your work is one of the great gifts of doing what you are passionate about. What brings you the most excitement?
For me, gradually getting answers for your own questions and making new discoveries are exciting, but of course the outstanding scenery, journey, experiences, skill sets being developed, and the stories we come to create during each expedition are priceless.
Did you happen to encounter your favorite species during the field surveys in Mount Guiting-Guiting Natural Park?
Honestly, when I am studying the diversity of amphibians and reptiles of Mt. Guiting-Guiting Natural Park, I consider every species that we collect my favorite.
Each survey site brings new knowledge (i.e., new elevation site recording, morphological variation, new distribution records, varied habitat type preferences of secretive species, etc). There are observations that have not been documented for some species in previous studies (even going back over 50 years ago in Brown and Alcala field collection, or more recently in the 2012 study by Siler et al.). This is especially the case for secretive RIG island endemics of amphibian and reptile species.
However, there are three species I can definitely say are my favorites — Brachymeles dalawangdaliri, Pseudogekko isapa, and the undescribed species of Fringed Forest Gecko These are very rare and secretive species of Philippine endemic lizards that can be found, we assumed, on Romblon Island Group and nowhere else in the world. Hence, the new collections are, we can say, very highly significant.
The first two have very few museum specimens, but we were lucky enough to document and collect enough samples to redescribe both species in terms of their morphological variations and know their first ever phylogenetic placement in relation to its related congeners (see Meneses et al. 2020). The third one is our new discovery of the Fringed-forest Gecko.
Deep in the forests of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh in India lives a colourful gecko species that only now revealed its true identity. Meet Eublepharis pictus, also known as the Painted Leopard Gecko.
In 2017, researchers Zeeshan A. Mirza of theNational Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore and C. Gnaneswar of theMadras Crocodile Bank Trust in Chennai found a gecko in a water tank near a temple in Vishakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, during a field survey. Back then, they identified it as belonging to the East Indian Leopard Gecko species (Eublepharis hardwickii).
“The species appears to be common in the hill forests, but its distinctness was only confirmed by other researchers,” Zeeshan Mirza explains.
In a phylogenetic study, where they looked for the evolutionary history and relationships within and between the leopard gecko species in the genus Eublepharis, the researchers found that what had until then been considered a southern population of East Indian Leopard Geckomight be distinct enough to represent a new species.
Once they had molecular data they could work with, the team made morphological comparisons between the species, looking at specimens across natural history museums.
“These lizards have conserved morphologies and most species are quite similar in general appearance,” Zeeshan Mirza elaborates. “With a few characters based on the number of specimens examined, we described the species and named it the Painted Leopard Gecko – in Latin, Eublepharis pictus, for its colouration.” Theypublished their discovery in the open-access scientific journalEvolutionary Systematics.
With this new addition, the gecko genus Eublepharis now contains 7 species. Two of them – E. pictus and E. satpuraensis – were described by Zeeshan Mirza.
The Painted Leopard Gecko measures 11.7 cm in length, which is somewhat large for a leopard gecko. The Brahmani River, which runs through the Eastern Ghats, separates it geographically from the East Indian Leopard Gecko, with which it shares a lot of similar traits.
The new species lives in dry evergreen forests mixed with scrub and meadows. It is strictly nocturnal, actively foraging along trails in the forest after dusk. While looking for food, it has been observed licking surfaces as it moves, which suggests it might use its tongue as a sensory organ.
Even though the Painted Leopard Gecko seems to be widespread across the state of Odisha and northern Andhra Pradesh, the researchers worry about its conservation. “The species is collected for the pet trade and even now may be smuggled illegally,” they write in their paper, which is why they refrain from giving out the exact locations where it may be found.
The authors believe the species would stand more of a chance against humans if more people knew it was actually harmless. To protect it, they suggest listing it as Near Threatened based on IUCN conservation prioritisation criteria, until more is known about the size of its populations.
Further research may also encourage better protection of biodiversity in the area. “The Eastern Ghats are severely under-surveyed, and dedicated efforts will help recognize it as a biodiversity hotspot,” the authors conclude.
Mirza ZA, Gnaneswar C (2022) Description of a new species of leopard geckos, Eublepharis Gray, 1827 from Eastern Ghats, India with notes on Eublepharis hardwickii Gray, 1827. Evolutionary Systematics 6(1): 77-88.https://doi.org/10.3897/evolsyst.6.83290
“Is it the road that crosses the habitat, or does the habitat cross the road?” ask scientists before agreeing that the wrong road at the wrong place is bound to cause various perils for the local wildlife, habitats and ecosystems.
“Is it the road that crosses the habitat, or does the habitat cross the road?” ask scientists at Gauhati University (Assam, India) before agreeing that the wrong road at the wrong place is bound to cause various perils for the local wildlife, habitats and ecosystems. Furthermore, some of those effects may take longer than others to identify and confirm.
This is how the research team of doctoral research fellow Somoyita Sur, Dr Prasanta Kumar Saikia and Dr Malabika Kakati Saikia decided to study roadkill along a 64-kilometre-long stretch of one of the major highways in India: the National Highway 715.
What makes the location a particularly intriguing choice is that it is where the highway passess between the Kaziranga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Assam and the North Karbi Anglong Wildlife Sanctuary, thus tempting animals to move to and from the floodplains of Kaziranga and the hilly terrain of the Sanctuary to escape the annual floods or – on a daily basis – in search for food and mating partners.
In the beginning, they looked into various groups, including mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians, before realising that the death toll amongst frogs, toads, snakes and lizards was indeed tremendous, yet overlooked. Their findings were recently published in the peer-reviewed scholarly journal Nature Conservation.
In conclusion, the scientists agree that roads and highways cannot be abandoned or prevented from construction and expansion, as they are crucial in connecting people and transporting goods and necessities.
Sur S, Saikia PK, Saikia MK (2022) Speed thrills but kills: A case study on seasonal variation in roadkill mortality on National highway 715 (new) in Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong Landscape, Assam, India. In: Santos S, Grilo C, Shilling F, Bhardwaj M, Papp CR (Eds) Linear Infrastructure Networks with Ecological Solutions. Nature Conservation 47: 87-104. https://doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.47.73036
aitik Patel and Dr Abhijit Das of the Wildlife Institute of India came up with one of the very first non-invasive approaches to identify individual frogs using photos from their natural habitats, which are then processed with the animal recognition software HotSpotter. Their unique method is described in the open-access, peer-reviewed scientific journal Herpetozoa.
This means that we hardly have any population data for Indian amphibians, which leads to a serious conservation bottleneck, especially when you are dealing with elusive herpiles. Therefore, there is the pressing priority to obtain demographic trends to prompt and support conservation actions for endemic and habitat-dependent species.
While demographics of natural populations is best estimated with the mark-recapture technique, used in animals, where individuals have distinct body markings, such as the stripes in a tiger, the dots in a whale shark and the fingerprints in a human. In the meantime, while frogs are well known for their individual-specific markings and colour patterns, this kind of technique has never been used in amphibians, even though they have long been recognised as some of the most vulnerable animals on Earth.
On the other hand, it is hardly possible to capture and mark individual frogs in the wild. So, Naitik Patel and Dr Abhijit Das of the Wildlife Institute of India came up with one of the very first non-invasive approaches to identify individual frogs using photos from their natural habitats, which are then processed with the animal recognition software HotSpotter. Their unique method is described in the open-access, peer-reviewed scientific journal Herpetozoa.
“Capturing each frog is not possible in the field, so to address this problem, we conducted a short study on Beautiful stream frogs (Amolops formosus), a species that, just like many other amphibians, has variable body markings amongst individuals. As this species inhabits the Himalayan torrent stream, which is difficult to access, we tried our best to photograph each frog from a distance to avoid any kind of physical contact,”
Having concluded their study with a success rate of 94.3%, the research team is hopeful that their protocol could be effectively implemented in rapid population estimation for many endangered species of frogs.
“We conducted photographic documentation to capture the unique markings of each frog, and then compared them, using computer-assisted individual identification. With this method, the number of individuals can be counted to estimate the population structure. This study is exceptional, owing to the minimal disturbance it causes to the frogs. Such a technique has rarely been tried on amphibians and is a promising method to estimate their numbers. It can also be used in citizen science projects,”
A new species of a Critically Endangered miniaturised stump-toed frog of the genus Stumpffia found in Madagascar is named Stumpffia froschaueri after “the man from the floodplain full of frogs”, Christoph Froschauer. The namesake of the new frog is famous for being the first, and European-wide renowned, printer from Zürich, famous for printing “Historia animalium” and the “Zürich Bible”. The finding is published in the peer-reviewed open-access journal Zookeys.
A new species proposed to be classified as Critically Endangered of miniaturised stump-toed frog of the genus Stumpffia, found in Madagascar, is named Stumpffia froschaueri after “the man from the floodplain full of frogs”, Christoph Froschauer. The namesake of the new frog is famous for being the first, and European wide renowned, printer from Zürich, famous for printing “Historia animalium” and the “Zürich Bible”.
Christoph Froschauer’s (ca. 1490 – April 1564) family name means “the man from the floodplain full of frogs”, and the printer used to sign his books with a woodcut, showing frogs under a tree in a landscape. Amongst his publications are works by Zwingli, Bullinger, Gessner, Erasmus von Rotterdam and Luther, and as a gift for his art, the printer was given citizenship in Zürich in 1519. Now, scientists have also honoured Froschauer’s great contributions by naming a new frog species after him.
The new species is reliably known only from a few specimens collected in three forest patches of the Sahamalaza region, an area severely threatened by fire, drought and high levels of forest clearance.
“In Anketsakely and Ankarafa this species has been found only in areas with relatively undisturbed forest, and active individuals were found during the day within the leaf-litter on the forest floor, where discreet calling males were also detected”,
shares lead author Dr. Angelica Crottini from CIBIO.
Even though two out of the three forest patches where Stumpffia froschaueri occurs are now part of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, there is a lack in forest border patrols and the area remains under strong pressure from slash-and-burn activities and timber harvesting. Habitat loss and fragmentation are likely to represent a huge threat to the species’ survival and cause population declines, unless remedial actions to enforce the protection of these habitats are taken. The scientists suggest to classify Stumpffia froschaueri as a Critically Endangered species according to criteria of the IUCN Red List.
“We here reiterate the need to continue with field survey activities, giving particular attention to small and marginal areas, where several microendemic candidate species are likely waiting to be discovered and formally described. This description confirms the Sahamalaza Peninsula as an important hotspot of amphibian diversity, with several threatened species relying almost entirely on the persistence of these residual forest fragments”,
Original source: Crottini A, Rosa GM, Penny SG, Cocca W, Holderied MW, Rakotozafy LMS, Andreone F (2020) A new stump-toed frog from the transitional forests of NW Madagascar (Anura, Microhylidae, Cophylinae, Stumpffia). ZooKeys 933: 139-164. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.933.47619
The species was discovered by Thy Neang during Wild Earth Allies field surveys in June-July 2019 on an isolated mountain named Phnom Chi in the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary when he encountered an unusual species of bent-toed gecko. “It was an extremely unexpected discovery. No one thought there were undescribed species in Prey Lang,” said Neang.
The geckos were found to belong to the C. irregularis species complex that includes at least 19 species distributed in south¬ern and central Vietnam, eastern Cambodia, and southern Laos. This is the first member of the complex to be found west of the Mekong River, demonstrating how biogeographic barriers can lead to speciation. Additionally, the geckos were unique in morphological characters and mitochondrial DNA, and distinct from C. ziegleri to which they are most closely related. Researchers have named the species Cyrtodactylus phnomchiensis after Phnom Chi mountain where it was found.
Bent-toed geckos of the genus Cyrtodactylus are one of the most species-diverse genera of gekkonid lizards, with 292 recognized species. Much of the diversity within Cyrtodactylus has been described only during the past decade and from mainland Southeast Asia, and many of these newly recognized species are thought to have extremely narrow geographic ranges. As such, Cyrtodactylus phnomchiensis is likely endemic to Phnom Chi, which consists of an isolated small mountain of rocky outcrops (peak of 652 m elevation) and a few associated smaller hills, altogether encompassing an area of approximately 4,464 hectares in Kampong Thom and Kratie Provinces within the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary, Cambodia.
The forest habitat in Phnom Chi remains in relatively good condition, but small-scale illegal gold extraction around its base threatens the newly discovered species. A second species of lizard, the scincid Sphenomorphus preylangensis, was also recently described from Phnom Chi by a team of researchers including Neang. These new discoveries underscore the importance of Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary for biodiversity conservation and the critical need to strengthen its management.
Further, an assessment of C. phnomchiensis is urgently warranted by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN 2020) because of its small area of occupancy, status as relatively uncommon, and ongoing threats to its habitat.
“This exciting discovery adds another reptile species to science for Cambodia and the world. It also highlights the global importance of Cambodia’s biodiversity and illustrates the need for future exploration and biological research in Prey Lang,”
“When [Neang] first returned from fieldwork and told me that he had found a species in the C. irregularis group so far west of the Mekong River in Cambodia, I did not believe it. His discovery underscores how much unknown biodiversity remains out there in unexpected places. Clearly, Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary is important for biodiversity and deserves attention,”
said Neang’s co-author Stuart of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.
“Frogs are by far my favorite. So, getting to describe and name two of them is terrific. I have been looking at these frogs for years now, so going over the whole process of observing them in their habitats and then analyzing them and comparing them under the microscope, to finally naming them is a long, but very satisfying journey.”
Urgiles, a 2017 Fulbright scholar and the lead author, said she chose to attend UCF for its integration of genetics and genomics in biodiversity research and the emphasis on real-world application. She works with Assistant Professor Anna Savage who specializes in species diversity based on molecular analyses.
“One of the things that I found most interesting about these guys is that they don’t have metamorphosis like a regular frog, but instead they develop entirely inside eggs that adult females deposit in the ground,” Urgiles said. “They really don’t need water bodies for their development. Both of the new frog species inhabit high elevation ecosystems in the mountain range over 8,000 feet, so even though we are right there in the equator, it’s very cold and windy most of the year.”
The team of researchers has been studying frogs in Ecuador the past few years. In 2017, Urgiles found the first new species and named it Pristimantis quintanai, after one of her biology professors — Pedro Quintana-Ascencio. She and Savage found the second species — Pristimantis cajanuma — in 2018. Both were found in the Paramo and montane forest of the southern Ecuadorean Andes.
The frogs are tiny, measuring 0.8 inch. Pristimantis quintanai females are brown and black and Pristimantis cajanuma are green and black, both easily blending into the foliage. They have a distinct call that is sharp and continuous, sounding like tik-tik-tik-tik.
Urgiles examined DNA samples collected by the international team back in Savage’s lab at UCF, generated genetic sequences, and constructed the phylogenetic analysis. Other team members also worked the morphological diagnosis and comparisons with other frogs and an acoustic analysis of the frogs’ calls.
Anna Savage, whose expertise includes describing species diversity based on molecular analyses, says:
“In these analyses, we use all of the genetic similarities and differences we find to build phylogenetic trees, and when we find that a ‘branch’ on the ‘tree’ has strong support and contains all of the individuals that share the same morphological characteristics, then we have good evidence to describe it as a new species. We used this method, along with vocalization and location data, to conclude that the two species we describe are distinct from any other species that have ever been characterized.”
The work is critical because of the vast diversity that has yet to be discovered in the tropical Andes of South America, Urgiles adds. In 2018, 13 new species of frogs were documented in the tropical Andes of Ecuador and so far in 2019 five new frogs have been documented.
There are potentially thousands of new plants and animals in the area that may hold the key to other discoveries. It’s important to know what is there, to better understand the threats to habitat loss and disease so conservation methods can be established to protect the resources.
Text originally by UCF.
Urgiles VL, Székely P, Székely D, Christodoulides N, Sanchez-Nivicela JC, Savage AE (2019) Genetic delimitation of Pristimantis orestes (Lynch 1979) and P. saturninoi Brito et al., 2017 and the description of two new terrestrial frogs from the Pristimantis orestes species group (Anura, Strabomantidae). ZooKeys 864: 111-146. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.864.35102
Following a series of recent surveys in north-western Liberia and south-eastern Guinea, an international team of researchers found three stiletto snakes which were later identified as a species previously unknown to science.
The discovery, published in the open-access journal Zoosystematics and Evolution by the team of Dr Mark-Oliver Roedel from the Natural History Museum, Berlin, provides further evidence for the status of the western part of the Upper Guinea forest zone as a center of rich and endemic biodiversity.
Curiously, stiletto snakes have unusual skulls and venom delivery system, allowing them to attack and stab sideways with a fang sticking out of the corner of their mouths. While most of these burrowing snakes are not venomous enough to kill a human – even though some are able to inflict serious tissue necrosis – this behaviour makes them impossible to handle using the standard approach of holding them with fingers behind the head. In fact, they can even stab with their mouths closed.
The new species, called Atractaspis branchi or Branch’s Stiletto Snake, was named to honor to the recently deceased South African herpetologist Prof. William Roy (Bill) Branch, a world leading expert on African reptiles.
The new species lives in primary rainforest and rainforest edges in the western part of the Upper Guinea forests. Branch’s Stiletto Snake is most likely endemic to this area, a threatened biogeographic region already known for its unique and diverse fauna.
The first specimen of the new species was collected at night from a steep bank of a small rocky creek in a lowland evergreen rainforest in Liberia. Upon picking it up, the snake tried to hide its head under body loops, bending it at an almost right angle, so that its fangs were partly visible on the sides. Then, it repeatedly stroke. It is also reported to have jumped distances almost as long as its entire body. The other two specimens used for the description of the species were collected from banana, manioc and coffee plantations in south-eastern Guinea, about 27 km apart.
“The discovery of a new and presumably endemic species of fossorial snake from the western Upper Guinea forests thus is not very surprising,” conclude the researchers. “However, further surveys are needed to resolve the range of the new snake species, and to gather more information about its ecological needs and biological properties.”
Rödel M, Kucharzewski C, Mahlow K, Chirio L, Pauwels OSG, Carlino P, Sambolah G, Glos J (2019) A new stiletto snake (Lamprophiidae, Atractaspidinae, Atractaspis) from Liberia and Guinea, West Africa. Zoosystematics and Evolution 95(1): 107-123. https://doi.org/10.3897/zse.95.31488