Naming rights for 5 new snail-sucking snake species auctioned to save rainforests in Ecuador

Sibon bevridgelyi is arguably the prettiest of the lot. Photo by Alejandro Arteaga.

The existence of five delightfully weird snail-sucking snakes slithering through the forest floors of Ecuador was announced by a group of scientists in a study in the open access journal Zookeys.

Believe or not, there is an entire group of snakes for which snails are number one on their menu. This is why their jaws are modified in such a way that they can suck the viscous slimy body of a snail right out of its shell.

Dipsas bobridgelyi trying to suck a snail out of its shell. Photo by Matthijs Hollanders.

Luckily for us, these snakes are harmless to humans. However, humans are not harmless to them. Four out of the five newly discovered species are already facing the possibility of becoming extinct, as the forest remnants they call home are currently being destroyed.

In a bid to take care after the unfortunate reptiles, the scientists auctioned the naming rights for the new species at a recent event in New York City. The money are to purchase and save a previously unprotected 72 ha (178 acre) plot of land where some of these species live.

To do so, Fundación Jocotoco is to add the purchased plot to the Buenaventura reserve, in order to expand the only protected area where two of the new snakes are found, and prevent these endangered snake species from going extinct.

Dipsas bobridgelyi. Photo by Alejandro Arteaga.

Three of the five species were discovered during a series of expeditions to three rainforests in Ecuador between 2013 and 2017, conducted by Alejandro Arteaga, an Ecuadorian–Venezuelan PhD student at the American Museum of Natural History and scientific director of Tropical Herping, who partnered with Dr. Alex Pyron, The George Washington University and National Museum of Natural History, USA.

In another habitat type, the dry forest, Ecuadorian scientists Dr. Omar Torres-Carvajal, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador (PUCE), David Salazar-Valenzuela, Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Diego Cisneros-Heredia, Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Juan Carlos Sánchez, Universidad del Azuay, Mario Yánez-Muñoz, Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad  (INABIO), and Peruvian scientist Pablo Venegas, CORBIDI, noted the existence of the other two new species.

“We had to let people know that these cool snakes exist,” Alejandro said, “and that these species might soon stop to exist, and we need people’s help to protect the snake’s habitat.”

In order to confirm these five snakes as new species, the team of researchers, particularly Drs. Konrad Mebert, Universidade Estadual de Santa Cruz, Nicolás Peñafiel, Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Gabriela Aguiar, Tropical Herping, and Timothy Colston, The George Washington University and National Museum of Natural History, USA, counted scales and gathered measurements from more than 200 museum specimens, and extracted DNA from nearly 100 snakes.

PhD student Alejandro Arteaga measured snake specimens at various museums, including the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Having made the highest bid at the auction, Rainforest Trust (RT) and Bob Ridgely got to name three of the five new snakes.

Thus, the species Dipsas georgejetti now honors George Jett, who supported the inception of Fundación Jocotoco’s reserves in Ecuador; while Dipsas bobridgelyi is a tribute to Dr. Robert “Bob” S. Ridgely, a leading ornithologist and distinguished conservationist who helped the establishment of the Buenaventura reserve. Bob, who was at the auction, chose the name Sibon bevridgelyi (Bev Ridgely’s Snail-Eater) to honor his father.

Dipsas georgejetti is found in only in dry forests in the coast of Ecuador. Photo by Alejandro Arteaga.

The remaining two snail-eating species, Dipsas oswaldobaezi and D. klebbai, were named after Dr. Oswaldo Báez and Casey Klebba, respectively, in recognition for their passion for Ecuador’s biodiversity and conservation.

Dipsas klebbai is the only one among the new species currently not threatened with extinction. Photo by Alejandro Arteaga.

“Several companies let you name a star after a loved one,” Alejandro says, “but, generally, such names have no formal validity. Naming an entire species after someone you love or admire is different. With few exceptions, this is the name that both the general public and the whole scientific community will use. So, why not let people choose the name of a species in exchange for a donation that protects its habitat?”

Dipsas oswaldobaezi photographed at Reserva la Ceiba. Photo by Jose Vieira.

The act of naming species is essential in raising awareness about the existence of a species and its risk of extinction, but it also provides an opportunity to recognize and honor the work of the people and institutions fighting to protect the species.

“Naming species is at the core of biology,” says Dr. Juan M. Guayasamin, co-author of the study and a professor at Universidad San Francisco in Quito. “Not a single study is really complete if it is not attached to the name of the species, and most species that share the planet with us are not described.”

“Everybody knows elephants and orangutans,” says Dr. Martin Schaefer of Fundación Jocotoco, “but some reptiles and amphibians are even more threatened. Yet, we still lack even the basic information to protect them better. This is why the work by scientists is so important; it provides the necessary information to guide our conservation decisions.”

“Through photography or by joining a scientific expedition, the general public can learn more about hidden biodiversity and how threatened it is,” says Lucas Bustamante of Tropical Herping. “This is a model to obtain support for research and conservation while recruiting more environmental ambassadors.”

***

Find out more about the Tropical Herping’s scientific discoveries and expeditions on Instagram and Facebook.

***

Watch the video below to follow entomologist and science communicator Phil Torres as he joins Alejandro Arteaga for one of his expeditions to document what it takes to find a new snake.

Academic paper:

Arteaga A, Salazar-Valenzuela D, Mebert K, Peñafiel N, Aguiar G, Sánchez-Nivicela JC, Pyron RA, Colston TJ, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Yánez-Muñoz MH, Venegas PJ, Guayasamin JM, Torres-Carvajal O (2018) Systematics of South American snail eating snakes (Serpentes, Dipsadini), with the description of five new species from Ecuador and Peru. ZooKeys 766: 79–147. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.766.24523

Get to know them faster: Alternative time-efficient way to describe new moth species

Having collected thousands of moth and butterfly species from across Costa Rica, famous ecologist Daniel Janzen, University of Pennsylvania, and his team were yet to find out many of their names. When they sought help from Dr. Gunnar Brehm, the taxonomist realised he needed too much time to describe species in the framework of an extensive revision of the genus, especially as there are still only a few biologists skilled to do this.

In the end, he found a way to revise the Neotropical looper moth genus Hagnagorafast and efficiently through avoiding wordy descriptions, but focusing on diagnostic characters, illustrated external characters, genitalia structures and DNA barcoding instead. His study is available in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

Having been put together back in the 19th century, most of the species within the Neotropical moth genus Hagnagora had been described by 1913. In modern days, it seemed necessary for the taxon to be revised. As a result, Dr. Gunnar Brehm herein publishes a “concise revision” comprising twenty species. It includes two species that have been revived from synonymy, two subspecies reinstated to a species level, four species excluded from the genus and the description of three new to science. In honour of the people who had funded the research, the new species have been named after them.

Following the revision, the research concludes not only the DNA molecules divergence between the separate species, but some subtle differences such as size, form of the wing blotches or the shape of the male genitalia.

Curious characteristic behaviour traits have also been noted within the genus. The representatives of the discussed genus fold their wings vertically while resting just like most butterflies and unlike the majority of related geometrid moths. Similarly, three of the revised species were noticed to be active during the day when they would often perch on moist substances like rotting plants, mud or dung, from whose fluids they would find vital nutrients.

The author stresses on the fact that taxonomists can hardly keep up with the pace inventories are being compiled, nor with the accelerating destruction of tropical rainforests. “Taxonomists therefore need to accelerate their workflows and try to make their papers useful not only to other taxonomists but for ecologists who need their support”, Dr. Gunnar Brehm says.

“What used to be one species ten years ago, known as Hagnagora anicata, is now regarded as a complex of six species, and more might be discovered in South American rain forests”, Brehm says. “Integrating information of molecules and morphology, as concisely as possible, appears to be one promising way to cope with the problem of slow taxonomy”, he explains in conclusion.

###

 

Original source:

Brehm G (2015) Three new species of Hagnagora Druce, 1885 (Lepidoptera, Geometridae, Larentiinae) from Ecuador and Costa Rica and a concise revision of the genus. ZooKeys 537: 131-156. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.537.6090

Night calls reveal two new rainforest arboreal frog species from western New Guinea

Tracked by their calls at night after heavy rains, two species of narrow-mouthed frogs have been recorded as new. During the examinations it turned out that one of the studied specimens is a hermaphrodite and another one represents the first record of the genus Cophixalus for the Misool Island.

The field work, conducted by Steve Richards, South Australian Museum, Adelaide, and his team, took place in the Raja Ampat Islands, Indonesian part of New Guinea. Their findings, compiled by Dr. Rainer Guenther, Museum fur Naturkunde, Berlin, are available in the open access journal Zoosystematics and Evolution.

Belonging to the narrow-mouthed frog genus Cophixalus that occurs mainly in New Guinea and northern Australia, the two new species have been differentiated by their morphological features along with the specificity of their advertisement calls, produced by males to attract their partners. Both are characterised by small and slender bodies, measuring less than 23 mm in length.

Curious enough, when dissected one of the male specimens, assigned to the new species C. salawatiensis, revealed a female reproductive system with well-developed eggs. Simultaneously, neither its sound-producing organs, nor its calls differed in any way from the rest of the observed males from the same species. Therefore, it is to be considered a hermaphrodite.

Both new frog species have been retrieved from logged lowland rainforests. There the scientists noted that after heavy rains at night the males perched on leaves of bushes and produced sounds, characteristic for each species.

All specimens have been placed in the collection of the Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense (MZB) in Cibinong (Bogor), Indonesia.

###

Original source:

Guenther R, Richards S, Tjaturadi B, Krey K (2015) Two new species of the genus Cophixalusfrom the Raja Ampat Islands west of New Guinea (Amphibia, Anura, Microhylidae).Zoosystematics and Evolution 91(2): 199-213.doi: 10.3897/zse.91.5411