Striking new snake species discovered in Paraguay

Only known from three individuals, Phalotris shawnella is endemic to the Cerrado forests of the department of San Pedro in east Paraguay.

Distribution map.

A beautiful non-venomous snake, previously unknown to science, was discovered in Paraguay and described by researchers of the Paraguayan NGO Para La Tierra with the collaboration of Guyra Paraguay and the Instituto de Investigación Biológica del Paraguay. It belongs to the genus Phalotris, which features 15 semi-subterranean species distributed in central South America. This group of snakes is noted for its striking colouration with red, black, and yellow patterns.

Jean-Paul Brouard, one of the involved researchers, came across an individual of the new species by chance while digging a hole at Rancho Laguna Blanca in 2014. Together with his colleagues Paul Smith and Pier Cacciali, he described the discovery in the open-access scientific journal Zoosystematics and Evolution. The authors named it Phalotris shawnella, in honour of two children – Shawn Ariel Smith Fernández and Ella Bethany Atkinson – who were born in the same year as the Fundación Para La Tierra (2008). They inspired the founders of the NGO to work for the conservation of Paraguayan wildlife, in the hope that their children can inherit a better world.

Phalotris shawnella. Photo by Jean-Paul Brouard

The new Phalotris snake is particularly attractive and can be distinguished from other related species in its genus by its red head in combination with a yellow collar, a black lateral band and orange ventral scales with irregular black spots. Only known from three individuals, it is endemic to the Cerrado forests of the department of San Pedro in east Paraguay. Its known distribution consists of two spots with sandy soils in that department – Colonia Volendam and Laguna Blanca – which are 90 km apart. 

Phalotris shawnella. Photo by Jean-Paul Brouard

The extreme rarity of this species led the authors to consider it as “Endangered”, according to the conservation categories of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which means it is in imminent danger of extinction in the absence of measures for its protection.

Phalotris shawnella. Photo by Jean-Paul Brouard

This species can only be found in the famous tourist destination of Laguna Blanca, an area declared as an Important Area for the Conservation of Amphibians and Reptiles. 

Phalotris shawnella. Photo by Jean-Paul Brouard

“This demonstrates once again the need to protect the natural environment in this region of Paraguay,” the authors comment. “Laguna Blanca was designated as a Nature Reserve for a period of 5 years, but currently has no protection at all. The preservation of this site should be considered a national priority for conservation.”

Research article:

Smith P, Brouard J-P, Cacciali P (2022) A new species of Phalotris (Serpentes, Colubridae, Elapomorphini) from Paraguay. Zoosystematics and Evolution 98(1): 77-85. https://doi.org/10.3897/zse.98.61064

Simplified method to survey amphibians will aid conservation

Researchers developed a method to determine which amphibians inhabit a specific area. The new technique will resolve some of the issues with conventional methods, such as capture and observational surveys.

Ryukyu Sword Tailed Newt, or Firebellied Newt. Photo by Neil Dalphin via Creative Commons CC0.

An international collaborative research group of members from seven institutions has developed a method to determine which amphibians (frogs, newts and salamanders) inhabit a specific area. Their work was published in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal Metabarcoding and Metagenomics (MBMG).

To do so, the scientists amplified and analysed extra-organismal DNA (also known as environmental DNA or eDNA) found in the water. This DNA ends up in the water after being expelled from the amphibian’s body along with mucus and excrement. 

The research group included Postdoctoral Researcher Sakata K. Masayuki and Professor Minamoto Toshifumi (Kobe University), Associate Professor Kurabayashi Atsushi (Nagahama Institute of Bio-Science and Technology), Nakamura Masatoshi (IDEA Consultants, Inc.) and Associate Professor Nishikawa Kanto (Kyoto University). 

The newly developed technique will resolve some of the issues with conventional methods, such as capture and observational surveys, which require a specialist surveyor who can visually identify species. Conventional surveys are also prone to discrepancies due to environmental factors, such as climate and season.

The researchers hope that the new method will revolutionise species monitoring, as it will enable anyone to easily monitor the amphibians that inhabit an area by collecting water samples.  

While monitoring in general is crucial to conserve the natural ecosystems, the importance of surveying amphibians is even more pressing, given the pace of their populations’ decline.

Amongst major obstacles to amphibian monitoring, however, are the facts that they are nocturnal; their young (e.g. tadpoles) and adults live in different habitats; and that specialist knowledge is required to capture individuals and identify their species. These issues make it particularly difficult to accurately survey amphibians in a standardised way, and results of individual efforts often contradict each other.

On the other hand, eDNA analysis techniques have already been established in programmes targeted at monitoring fish species, where they are already commonplace. So, the researchers behind the present study joined forces to contribute towards the development of a similar standardised analysis method for amphibians.

First of all, the researchers designed multiple methods for analysing the eDNA of amphibians and evaluated their performance to identify the most effective method. Next, they conducted parallel monitoring of 122 sites in 10 farmlands across Japan using the developed eDNA analysis along with the conventional methods (i.e. capture surveys using a net and observation surveys). 

As a result, the newly developed method was able to detect all three orders of amphibians: Caudata (the newts and salamanders), Anura (the frogs), and Gymnophiona (the caecilians). 

Furthermore, this novel eDNA analysis method was able to detect more species across all field study sites than the conventional method-based surveys, indicating its effectiveness.

Research Background

Amphibian biodiversity is continuing to decline worldwide and collecting basic information about their habitats and other aspects via monitoring is vital for conservation efforts. Traditional methods of monitoring amphibians include visual and auditory observations, and capture surveys.

However, amphibians tend to be small in size and many are nocturnal. The success of surveys varies greatly depending on the climate and season, and specialist knowledge is required to identify species. Consequently, it is difficult to monitor a wide area and assess habitats. The last decade has seen the significant development of environmental DNA analysis techniques, which can be used to investigate the distribution of a species by analysing external DNA (environmental DNA) that is released into the environment along with an organism’s excrement, mucus and other bodily fluids. 

The fundamentals of this technique involve collecting water from the survey site and analysing the eDNA contained in it to find out which species inhabit the area. In recent years, the technique has gained attention as a supplement for conventional monitoring methods. Standardised methods of analysis have already been established for other species, especially fishes, and diversity monitoring using eDNA is becoming commonplace. 

However, eDNA monitoring of amphibians is still at the development stage. One reason for this is that the proposed eDNA analysis method must be suitable for the target species or taxonomic group, and there are still issues with developing and implementing a comprehensive method for detecting amphibians. If such a method could be developed, this would make it possible for monitoring to be conducted even by people who do not have the specialised knowledge to identify species nor surveying experience.

Hopefully, this would be established as a unified standard for large-scale monitoring surveys, such as those on a national scale. This research group’s efforts to develop and evaluate analysis methods will hopefully lay the foundations for eDNA analysis to become a common tool for monitoring amphibians, as well as fish. 

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Follow Metabarcoding and Metagenomics (MBMG) journal on Twitter and Facebook.

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Research article: 

Sakata MK, Kawata MU, Kurabayashi A, Kurita T, Nakamura M, Shirako T, Kakehashi R, Nishikawa K, Hossman MY, Nishijima T, Kabamoto J, Miya M, Minamoto T (2022) Development and evaluation of PCR primers for environmental DNA (eDNA) metabarcoding of Amphibia. Metabarcoding and Metagenomics 6: e76534. https://doi.org/10.3897/mbmg.6.76534

Snake photo posted on Instagram leads to the discovery of a new species from the Himalayas

An image on Instagram prompted the discovery of a new species of Kukri snake from Himachal Pradesh, India. Intrigued by a post shared by a master student, the research team found and examined more specimens to discover they belonged to a yet undescribed species. Their study, published in the open-access journal Evolutionary Systematics, highlights how little we still know about the biodiversity in the Western Himalayas.

Virender Kumar Kharadwaj

Intrigued by a photo shared on Instagram, a research team from India discovered a previously unknown species of kukri snake.

Staying at home in Chamba because of the COVID-19 lockdown, Virendar K. Bhardwaj, a master student in Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar, started exploring his backyard, photographing everything he found there and posting the pictures online. His Instagram account started buzzing with the life of the snakes, lizards, frogs, and insects he encountered.

One of those photos – a picture of a kukri snake – popped up in the feed of Zeeshan A. Mirza (National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore) and immediately caught his attention. After a chat with Harshil Patel (Veer Narmad South Gujarat University, Surat), he decided to get in touch with Virendar and find out more about the sighting.

The snake, which Virendar encountered along a mud road on a summer evening, belongs to a group commonly known as Kukri snakes, named so because of their curved teeth that resemble the Nepali dagger “Kukri”. 

At first sight, the individual that Virendar photographed looked a lot like the Common Kukri snake (Oligodon arnensis). However, a herpetologist could spot some unique features that raised questions about its identity. 

Kukri snake

Virendar uploaded the photo on 5 June 2020, and by the end of the month, after extensively surveying the area, he found two individuals – enough to proceed with their identification. However, the COVID-19 pandemic slowed down the research work as labs and natural history museums remained closed. 

Upon the reopening of labs, the team studied the DNA of the specimens and found out they belonged to a species different from the Common Kukri snake. Then, they compared the snakes’ morphological features with data from literature and museums and used micro computed tomography scans to further investigate their morphology. In the end, the research team were able to confirm the snakes belonged to a species previously unknown to science.

The discovery was published in a research paper in the international peer-reviewed journal Evolutionary Systematics. There, the new species is described as Oligodon churahensis, its name a reference to the Churah Valley in Himachal Pradesh, where it was discovered. 

What’s even more interesting is that the exploration of your own backyard may yield still undocumented species… if one looks in their own backyard, they may end up finding a new species right there.

Zeeshan A. Mirza

“It is quite interesting to see how an image on Instagram led to the discovery of such a pretty snake that, until very recently, remained hidden to the world,” comments Zeeshan A. Mirza.

“What’s even more interesting is that the exploration of your own backyard may yield still undocumented species. Lately, people have been eager to travel to remote biodiversity hotspots to find new or rare species, but if one looks in their own backyard, they may end up finding a new species right there.”

“Compared to other biodiversity hotspots, the Western Himalayas are still poorly explored, especially in terms of herpetological diversity, but they harbor unique reptile species that we have only started to unravel in the last couple of years,” Mirza adds.

Research article:

Mirza ZA, Bhardwaj VK, Patel H (2021) A new species of snake of the genus Oligodon Boie in Fitzinger, 1826 (Reptilia, Serpentes) from the Western Himalayas. Evolutionary Systematics 5(2): 335-345. https://doi.org/10.3897/evolsyst.5.72564

Herpetozoa renews contract with Pensoft for another 5 years

Herpetozoa, the peer-reviewed scientific journal of the Austrian Herpetological Society, renewed its contract with Pensoft, re-signing with the scholarly publisher for another five years. Published since 1988, the journal offers a venue for research articles, short contributions and reviews dealing with all aspects of the study of amphibians and reptiles.

Herpetozoa, the peer-reviewed scientific journal of the Austrian Herpetological Society, renewed its contract with Pensoft, re-signing with the scholarly publisher for another five years. Published since 1988, the journal offers a venue for research articles, short contributions and reviews dealing with all aspects of the study of amphibians and reptiles.

Enticed by the opportunities that open access publishing offers, and looking to improve its visibility, Herpetozoa first came to Pensoft in 2019. The move equipped the journal with a brand new website and a full suite of publishing services tailored to the needs of biodiversity-themed academic publications available from ARPHA, Pensoft’s self-developed publishing platform. 

In ARPHA’s fast-track publishing system, each manuscript is carried through all stages, from submission and reviewing to dissemination and archiving, without ever leaving the platform’s collaboration-friendly online environment. In addition, semantic enhancements, automated data export to aggregators, web-service integrations with major indexing databases, and a variety of publishing formats ensure that all articles are easy to find, access, and use by both humans and machines.

The journal also makes use of ARPHA Preprints, another service developed by Pensoft to streamline public access to the latest scientific findings. The platform allows authors to submit a preprint in a matter of seconds along with their manuscript, with no need to upload any additional files. Following a quick in-house screening, the preprint is then made available on ARPHA Preprints in a few days’ time. Once the associated paper is published, a two-way link between the article and the preprint is established via CrossRef.

In the past three years, we saw Herpetozoa publish some quite peculiar discoveries that were quick to attract the attention of the global media. Such was the case of a set of first-of-their-kind observations of kukri snakes gutting toads and eating their organs while still alive. At the same time, the journal doesn’t fail to bring public attention to urgent conservation and biodiversity loss issues like reptile poaching in Pakistan, as well as innovative methods to monitor delicate amphibians in a non-invasive manner.

Pakistan’s amphibians need more research efforts and better protection

In Pakistan, amphibians have long been neglected in wildlife conservation, management decisions and research agendas. To counter this, scientists have now published the first comprehensive study on all known amphibian species in the country in the open-access scholarly journal ZooKeys. The little we currently know about the occurrence of the chytrid fungus, which has already eradicated many amphibian species globally, is a grim example of how urgent it is to acquire further information.

Amphibians are bioindicators of an ecosystem’s health and may also serve as biological control of crop and forest pests. The First Herpetological Congress, organized in 1989, presented alarming findings about the decline in amphibian populations. Currently, amphibians include the highest percentage of threatened species (>40%), as well as the highest number of data deficient species (>1500 species). The little we currently know about the occurrence of the chytrid fungus, which has already eradicated many amphibian species globally, is a grim example of how urgent it is to acquire further information.

Asian Common Toad. Photo by Herpetology Lab, Arid Agriculture University Rawalpindi

Researchers just published the first comprehensive study on all known amphibian species of Pakistan in the open-access journal ZooKeys. In it, they report 21 species from the country, providing their identification key and photographic guide. However, as many of Pakistan’s potential amphibian habitats are difficult to access and study, especially the high-altitude northern and arid western mountains, it is highly likely that a lot of species are yet to be discovered.

Burrowing Frog (in amplexus). Photo by Herpetology Lab, Arid Agriculture University Rawalpindi

In particular, the authors point out that habitats facing destruction, urbanization, pollution, unsustainable utilization and other human-caused threats need to be put on high priority, so that suitable conservation strategies can be devised. This way, amphibian populations would be better controlled with less financial, administrative, and human resources.

So far, amphibians have been excluded from all current legislative and policy decisions in the country. Likewise, they are not protected under any law. Hence, the legislation pertaining to rare and endemic species needs to be updated. Schedule III, which includes protected species, provincial and federal wildlife laws, and CITES appendices are in particular need of revision.

Common Skittering Frog. Photo by Herpetology Lab, Arid Agriculture University Rawalpindi

Currently, wildlife conservation projects in Pakistan mainly focus on carnivores, ungulates and birds. Therefore, the authors of the study propose adopting an inclusive wildlife conservation approach in Pakistan. This approach would advocate the integration of poorly documented taxa, such as amphibians, in wildlife conservation and management projects. It is by highlighting the significance of their existence and the intrinsic values of all wildlife species that local ecosystems can remain healthy in the long run.

“There is also a dire need to change social attitudes towards the appreciation and significance of amphibians in our society. This could be achieved by initiating community awareness, outreach and school classrooms, and through citizen science programs,” add the researchers.

Research article:
Rais M, Ahmed W, Sajjad A, Akram A, Saeed M, Hamid HN, Abid A (2021) Amphibian fauna of Pakistan with notes on future prospects of research and conservation. ZooKeys 1062: 157-175. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1062.66913

Two new pit vipers discovered from Qinghai-Tibet Plateau

Two new species of venomous snakes were just added to Asia’s fauna – the Nujiang pit viper (Gloydius lipipengi) from Zayu, Tibet, and the Glacier pit viper (G. swild) found west of the Nujiang River and Heishui, Sichuan, east of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Our team of researchers from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Bangor University published the discovery in the open-access journal ZooKeys. In this study, we performed a new molecular phylogenetic analysis of the Asian pit vipers.

Guest blog post by Jingsong Shi

Two new species of venomous snakes were just added to Asia’s fauna – the Nujiang pit viper (Gloydius lipipengi) from Zayu, Tibet, and the Glacier pit viper (G. swild) found west of the Nujiang River and Heishui, Sichuan, east of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Our team of researchers from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Bangor University published the discovery in the open-access journal ZooKeys. In this study, we performed a new molecular phylogenetic analysis of the Asian pit vipers.

Glacier pit viper (Gloydius swild)

The Nujiang pit viper has a greyish brown back with irregular black ring-shaped crossbands, wide, greyish-brown stripes behind the eyes, and relativity short fangs, while the Glacier pit viper is blueish-grey, with zigzag stripes on its back, and has relatively narrow stripes behind its eyes.

Nujiang pit viper (Gloydius lipipengi)

Interestingly, the Glacier pit viper was found under the Dagu Holy-glacier National Park: the glacier lake lies 2000 meters higher than the habitat of the snakes, at more than 4,880 m above sea level. This discovery suggests that the glaciers might be a key factor to the isolation and speciation of alpine pit vipers in southwest China.

The stories behind the snakes’ scientific names are interesting too: with the new species from Tibet, Gloydius lipipengi, the name is dedicated to my Master’s supervisor, Professor Pi-Peng Li from the Institute of Herpetology at Shenyang Normal University, just in time for Li’s sixtieth birthday. Prof. Li has devoted himself to the study of the herpetological diversity of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and it was under his guidance that I became an Asian pit viper enthusiast and professional herpetological researcher. 

Gloydius swild, the new species from Heishui, Sichuan, is in turn named after the SWILD Group, which studies the fauna and biodiversity of southewst China. They discovered and collected the snake during an expedition to the Dagu Holy-glacier.

A misty morning near the habitat of Glacier pit viper.

We are equally impressed by the sceneries we encountered during our field work: throughout our journey, we got to look at sacred, crystal-like glacier lakes embraced by the mountains, morning mist falling over the village, and colorful broadleaf-conifer forests. During our expedition, we met a lot of hospitable Tibetan inhabitants and enjoyed their kindness and treats, which made the expedition all the more unforgettable.

Research article:

Shi J-S, Liu J-C, Giri R, Owens JB, Santra V, Kuttalam S, Selvan M, Guo K-J, Malhotra A (2021) Molecular phylogenetic analysis of the genus Gloydius (Squamata, Viperidae, Crotalinae), with description of two new alpine species from Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, China. ZooKeys 1061: 87-108. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1061.70420

New beautiful, dragon-like species of lizard discovered in the Tropical Andes

Enyalioides feiruzae is a colourful, highly variable new species of lizard discovered in the upper basin of the Huallaga River in central Peru. The authors, having searched for amphibians and reptiles in the area between 2011 and 2018, have now finally described this stunning reptile as new to science in the open-access journal Evolutionary Systematics. In fact, E. feiruzae is the fourth herp species discovered by the team in this biologically underresearched part of Peru.

The Huallaga River in the Andes of central Peru extends for 1,138 km, making it the largest tributary of the Marañón River, the spinal cord of the Amazon River. This basin harbours a great variety of ecosystems, including the Peruvian Yunga ecoregion, which is considered a shelter of endemic birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

Closeup of a male of Enyalioides feiruzae. Photo by Pablo J. Venegas

How is it possible, then, that this corner of the Tropical Andes remains poorly known to biologists to this day? The main reason is indeed a quite simple one and it lies in the civil wars with terrorist organisations and drug traffickers that were going on in the region in the 1980s, disrupting biological studies. 

It wasn’t until the late 1990s that the Peruvian government was able to liberate the area, and that’s when, little by little, some biologists began to venture back to the Huallaga Valley. However, forest destruction by coca plantations during the internal war, which eventually led to the construction of a hydroelectric power plant, left the Huallaga valley highly fragmented, making for an even more urgent need for biodiversity research in the area.

An adult female of Enyalioides feiruzae. Photo by Pablo J. Venegas

A new species of wood lizard, Enyalioides feiruzae, was recently confirmed from the premontane forest of the Huallaga river basin, and described in the open-access, peer-reviewed scientific journal Evolutionary Systematics. It took the researchers seven years of field surveys to formally describe it. To do so, they had first to spend plenty of nights in the forests, in order to pick by hand lizards that were sleeping on bushes 20–150 cm above the ground.

The Feiruz wood lizards – especially the males – come in a stunning variety of colours. Males can have brownish turquoise, gray, or greenish brown backs traced with pale lines. Females, in turn, can be greenish brown or floury brown, with faint dark brown lines on their back, limbs and tail, and spots on the sides.

The researchers believe E. feiruzae might have established as a separate species after it got geographically separated from a very similar lizard, E. rudolfarndti, possibly as a result from tectonic activity and climatic oscillations that occurred from the Late Oligocene to the Early Miocene.

The Feiruz wood lizard was named after – you guessed it – Feiruz – “a female green iguana, muse and lifelong friend”. The owner of Feiruz the iguana, Catherine Thomson, supported the authors’ efforts in taxonomic research and nature conservation.

The habitat of the E. feiruzae is very fragmented by croplands and pastures for cattle ranching, and for now we only know of a single protected population in the Tingo Maria National Park. Much more remains to be discovered about the size and distribution of E. feiruzae populations and their ability to survive and adapt in a fragmented landscape.

The new species belongs to the genus Enyalioides, which contains sixteen species. More than half of the known Enyalioides species have been described in the last two decades, largely due to the recent surveys of remote places in the Tropical Andes from Ecuador and Peru.

Original source:

Venegas PJ, Chávez G, García-Ayachi LA, Duran V, Torres-Carvajal O (2021) A new species of wood lizard (Hoplocercinae, Enyalioides) from the Río Huallaga Basin in Central Peru. Evolutionary Systematics 5(2): 263-273. https://doi.org/10.3897/evolsyst.5.69227

New deadly snake from Asia named after character from Chinese myth ‘Legend of White Snake’

In 2001, the famous herpetologist Joseph B. Slowinski died from snakebite by an immature black-and-white banded krait, while leading an expedition team in northern Myanmar. The very krait that caused his death is now confirmed to belong to the same species identified as a new to science venomous snake, following an examination of samples collected between 2016 and 2019 from Yingjiang County, Yunnan Province, China.

The new krait species, found in Southwestern China and Northern Myanmar, is described by Dr Zening Chen of Guangxi Normal University, PhD candidate Shengchao Shi, Dr Li Ding from the Chengdu Institute of Biology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Dr Gernot Vogel of the Society for Southeast Asian Herpetology in Germany and Dr Jingsong Shi of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology at Chinese Academy of Sciences. Their study is published in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal ZooKeys.

The new krait species Bungarus suzhenae. Photo by Dr Li Ding

The researchers decided to name the new species Bungarus suzhenae – Suzhen’s krait, after the mythical figure of Bai Su Zhen (白素贞) – a powerful snake goddess from the traditional Chinese myth ‘Legend of White Snake (白蛇传)’.

The legend says that, after thousands of years of practicing magic power, the white snake Bai Su Zhen transformed herself into a young woman and fell in love with the human man Xu Xian. Together, they ran a hospital, saving lots of human lives with medicine and magic. However, this love between goddess and human was forbidden by the world of the gods and, eventually, Bai Su Zhen was imprisoned in a tower for eternity. Since then, the Chinese regard her as a symbol of true love and good-heartedness. 

Illustration of the Legend of the White Snake, by Xin Wang, Chongqing museum of natural history

“The black-and-white banded krait is one of the snakes most similar to the white snake in nature, so we decided to name it after Bai Su Zhen,” say the authors.

In fact, the discovery of Suzhen’s krait was inspired by another accident from 2015, when the Chinese herpetologist Mian Hou was bitten by a black-and-white banded krait in Yingjiang. “It hurt around the wound, and the skin around it turned dark,” said the unfortunate man, who luckily survived. 

The skull of Bungarus suzhenae (3d-reconstructed model, by Jingsong Shi)

The authors of the present study realized that the bite was different from those of the many-banded krait B. multicinctus, which go without clear symptoms or pain around the wound. This clue eventually led to the discovery of Suzhen’s krait.

Because kraits are highly lethal, understanding their species diversity and geographic distribution is vital for saving human lives. Thanks to adequate description and classification of deadly snakes, research on venom, antivenom development and proper snakebite treatment can advance more rapidly. 

Suzhen’s krait Bungarus suzhenae preying on Yunnan Caecilian Ichthyophis bannanicus. Credit: GTO

The new study makes it easier to distinguish between krait species from China and adjacent southeastern Asia. “Three species of the black-and-white banded kraits from China were previously put under the same name – many-banded krait, which would hinder appropriate medical treatment,” the authors point out. Additionally, they suggest that antivenom for the many-banded krait be reevaluated accordingly.

Highlands of diversity: Another new chameleon from the Bale region, Ethiopia

The Bale Mountains in south-central Ethiopia are considered to be one of the most unique centers of endemism, with an extraordinary number of plants and animals that can only be found there. Numerous species are already known from this Afromontane high-elevation plateau, making it a biodiversity hotspot, but ongoing research continues to reveal the presence of so far unknown and undescribed organisms. 

The new chameleon species, Trioceros wolfgangboehmei
Credit: Koppetsch et al.

Zoologists Thore Koppetsch and Benjamin Wipfler of the Research Museum Alexander Koenig in Bonn, Germany, and Petr Nečas from the Czech Republic, describe one such species: a new small-sized chameleon living on the edge of the forest. Their findings were published in the open-access, peer-reviewed life science journal Zoosystematics and Evolution

There were already two species of the chameleon genus Trioceros known to be restricted to the Bale region when Thore Koppetsch and his colleagues discovered another unique representative of this group from the northern slopes of the Bale Mountains. Interestingly, this new chameleon is considered to be part of a species complex of the wide-spread Ethiopian Chameleon Trioceros affinis. Previous studies have indicated divergence between its different populations across the Ethiopian Highlands – with some of them separated by the northern extension of the Great Rift Valley, which also shaped the evolution of early humans. 

Living individual of Trioceros wolfgangboehmei
Credit: Koppetsch et al.

The new chameleon, Trioceros wolfgangboehmei, has a special name. It honours the scientific work of Wolfgang Böhme, senior herpetologist at the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig in Bonn, and his passion for chameleons and other reptiles.

Apart from its biogeographical patterns, the new species also has a characteristic appearance, displaying enlarged spiny scales on its back and tail that form a prominent crest. It usually lives on small trees and bushes at an altitude of above 2,500 m above sea level.

Head detail of the new chameleon, Trioceros wolfgangboehmei
Credit: Koppetsch et al.

“Given the variation in colour patterns and morphology between different populations of these chameleons in Ethiopia, it is likely that these groups still bear a higher hidden diversity than expected, which might be revealed by further ongoing investigations.”

Thore Koppetsch

Furthermore, the research team urges for sustainable preservation and conservation of its habitat to mitigate the impact of human activity.

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Original source:

Koppetsch T, Nečas P, Wipfler B (2021) A new chameleon of the Trioceros affinis species complex (Squamata, Chamaeleonidae) from Ethiopia. Zoosystematics and Evolution 97 (1): 161–179. https://doi.org/10.3897/zse.97.57297 

Guest blog post: Unique feeding behaviour of Asian kukri snakes gutting frogs and toads

Guest blog post by Henrik Bringsøe

In September 2020, we reported the first evidence for a newly discovered behaviour in snakes, as we provided extensive photographic documentation, demonstrating a macabre feeding strategy of Asian kukri snakes of the species Oligodon fasciolatus, the Small-banded Kukri Snake: a snake cutting open the abdomen of a toad, inserting its head and pulling out the toad’s organs which are then swallowed.

A Small-banded Kukri Snake attacking a Painted Burrowing Frog, which is inflating its lungs. The snake makes rotations about its own longitudinal body axis (“death rolls”), as it is biting and holding the belly of the frog. Video by Navapol Komanasin.

This is done while the toad is alive and it may take several hours before it dies! We have now provided new evidence that two other species of kukri snakes also exhibit this highly unusual behaviour: Oligodon formosanus, the Taiwanese Kukri Snake, and Oligodon ocellatus, the Ocellated Kukri Snake. These three species are closely-related and belong to the same species group in the genus Oligodon.

On two occasions in Hong Kong, a Taiwanese Kukri Snake was observed eviscerating frogs of the species Kaloula pulchra, the Painted Burrowing Frog or Banded Bullfrog. In one case, the snake had cut open the belly of the frog and inserted its head deep into the frog’s abdomen. In this position, the snake performed repeated rotations about its own longitudinal body axis, also called “death rolls”! We believe that the purpose of these death rolls was to tear out organs to be subsequently swallowed. In the other case, the organs of the frog had been forced out of its abdomen.

A Taiwanese Kukri Snake with its head buried deep into the abdomen of a Painted Burrowing Frog. Initially, the frog moves its long fourth toe of the left hind foot up and down 21 times. During the subsequent active struggle, the snake makes three “death rolls”. Video by Jonathan Rotbart.

A Small-banded Kukri Snake was also observed eating a Painted Burrowing Frog in Northeast Thailand, but it swallowed the frog whole. That snake also performed death rolls, although we have never before seen that behaviour in this species of kukri snake (this species was treated in our 2020 paper). This frog is not considered toxic and is also eaten by other snakes. We believe that prey size is crucial in determining whether the gape width allows large prey to be swallowed whole by kukri snakes. If the prey is too large, the snake may eviscerate a frog or toad, in order to swallow the organs. Afterwards, the snake will perhaps be able to swallow the rest of the frog or toad.

In another new paper, we describe and illustrate the Ocellated Kukri Snake eating the toxic toad Asian Black-spotted Toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus) in Vietnam. Initially, the large snake’s head was buried past its eyes into the abdomen of the toad, but eventually the snake swallowed the toad whole despite its toxicity. We interpret this behaviour that kukri snakes are in fact resistant to the toads’ cardiac glycoside toxins. Furthermore, toads are only eviscerated if they prove too large to be swallowed whole.

An Ocellated Kukri Snake first pierced this poisonous Asian common toad and buried its head deeply into the abdomen of the amphibian, as it was probably eating the organs. However, as seen in the photo, the kukri snake proceeded to swallow the toad whole. 
Photo by James Holden.

We suggest that the unique behaviour of eviscerating frogs and toads and eating their organs may have evolved specifically in a group of kukri snakes named the Oligodon cyclurus group or clade because it has now been recorded in three of its species, namely Oligodon fasciolatus, Oligodon formosanus and Oligodon ocellatus. We hope that future observations may uncover additional aspects of the fascinating feeding habits of kukri snakes though we may indeed call them gruesome.

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See more video recordings of the snakes’ unique, even if quite gruesome, behaviours provided as supplementary files to one of the discussed research papers.

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Research papers: 

Bringsøe H, Suthanthangjai M, Suthanthangjai W, Lodder J, Komanasin N (2021) Gruesome twosome kukri rippers: Oligodon formosanus (Günther, 1872) and O. fasciolatus (Günther, 1864) eat Kaloula pulchra Gray, 1831 either by eviscerating or swallowing whole. Herpetozoa 34: 49-55. https://doi.org/10.3897/herpetozoa.34.e62688

Bringsøe H, Holden J (2021) Yet another kukri snake piercing an anuran abdomen: Oligodon ocellatus (Morice, 1875) eats Duttaphrynus melanostictus (Schneider, 1799) in Vietnam. Herpetozoa 34: 57-59. https://doi.org/10.3897/herpetozoa.34.e62689