During an expedition to Arunachal Pradesh in India, part of the Himalayan biodiversity hotspot, a new species of green pit viper Trimeresurus salazar with unique stripes and colouration patterns was discovered near Pakke Tiger Reserve. Scientists named the snake after J.K. Rowling’s fictional character, the Parselmouth wizard and the founder of one of the houses in the magical school Hogwarts, Salazar Slytherin. The discovery is published in the open-access journal Zoosystematics and Evolution.
A new green pit viper species of the genus Trimeresurus was discovered during the herpetological expedition to Arunachal Pradesh in India, part of the Himalayan biodiversity hotspot. The scientists named the newly-discovered snake Trimeresurus salazar after a Parselmouth (able to talk with serpents) wizard, co-founder of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and the founder of the House of Slytherin – Salazar Slytherin, the fictional character of J.K. Rowling’s saga “Harry Potter”. The discovery is published in the open-access journal Zoosystematics and Evolution.
The pit vipers in the genus Trimeresurus are charismatic venomous serpents, distributed widely across east and southeast Asia. In total, the genus includes at least 48 species, with fifteen representatives occurring in India. The species belonging to the genus are morphologically cryptic, which makes it difficult to distinguish them in the field. As a result, their real diversity could be underestimated.
Arunachal Pradesh, where the new species was found, belongs to the Himalayan biodiversity hotspot, which explains the diverse flora and fauna being continuously discovered there.
The new green pit viper demonstrates a unique orange to reddish stripe, present on the head and body in males.
Explaining the name of the new species, the scientists suggest that it is colloquially referred to as the Salazar’s pit viper.
This is already the second species discovered within the course of the expedition to Arunachal Pradesh, which reflects the poor nature of biodiversity documentation across north-eastern India.
“Future dedicated surveys conducted across northeastern India will help document biodiversity, which is under threat from numerous development activities that include road widening, agriculture, and hydro-electric projects”, shares the lead researcher Dr. Zeeshan A. Mirza from National Centre for Biological Science of Bangalore, India.
Mirza ZA, Bhosale HS, Phansalkar PU, Sawant M, Gowande GG, Patel H (2020) A new species of green pit vipers of the genus Trimeresurus Lacépède, 1804 (Reptilia, Serpentes, Viperidae) from western Arunachal Pradesh, India. Zoosystematics and Evolution 96(1): 123-138. https://doi.org/10.3897/zse.96.48431
The False Coral Snake (Oxyrhopus rhombifer) may be capable of recognising various threat levels and demonstrates ten different defensive behaviours, seven of which are registered for the first time for the species. Scientists from the Federal University of Viçosa (Brazil) published their laboratory observation results based on a juvenile specimen in the open-access journal Neotropical Biology and Conservation.
Evolution shaped anti-predator mechanisms in preys, which can be displayed either with avoidance or defensive behaviours. The current knowledge about such mechanisms are still scarce for many snake species, but it is constantly increasing over the last years. These data are helpful for better understanding of the species ecology, biology and evolution.
The False Coral Snake (O. rhombifer) is a terrestrial snake species with a colouration like the true coral snake . The species has a wide geographic distribution, occurring in Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia and all Brazilian biomes. Among its previously known anti-predator mechanisms, this species has already shown cloacal discharge, body flattening, struggling, erratic movements and hiding the head.
However, these behaviors were only a small part of what this species is capable of doing to defend itself! In November 2017, a juvenile male captured in the Atlantic Forest of southeastern Brazil was observed under laboratory settings, where the scientists would simulate a predation attempt with an increasing threat level.
We released the snake on to the laboratory bench and let it notice our presence. The animal remained motionless at first, then performed a pronounced dorsoventral flattening of the anterior part of the body, raised its tail, adopted an S-shaped posture, raised the first third of the body and performed brief body vibrations. Then we approached the snake, which remained with the same posture and body vibrations. When we touched the animal (not handling), it remained with the S-shaped posture, keeping the first third of the body elevated and the dorsoventral flattening (however, less accentuated) and started to display erratic movements, false strikes and locomotor escape. When handled, the snake only struggled,
shares the lead scientist Mr. Clodoaldo Lopes de Assis.
Amongst ten recorded behaviour types only three were among those already registered for this species. Since defensive responses in snakes decrease as body size increases, juveniles exhibit a broader set of defensive behaviour than adults. Because of that, some types of behaviour described in this study might be explained either by physical constraints or stage of development of the individual.
Some types of behaviour resemble the ones of true coral snakes of the genus Micrurus, a group of extremely venomous snakes. Thus, this similarity may be linked with the mimicry hypothesis between these two groups, where harmless false coral snakes take advantage of their similar appearance to the true coral snakes to defend themselves.
Another type of anti-predation mechanism shown — body vibrations — is yet an unknown behaviour for Brazilian snakes and has been recorded for the first time. This type of behaviour is difficult to interpret, but could represent a defensive signal against non-visually orientated predators.
Finally, defensive strategies of the specimen differed according to the threat level imposed: starting from discouraging behaviour up to false bites, erratic movements and locomotor escape.
O. rhombifer may be capable of recognising different threat levels imposed by predators and adjusting its defensive behaviour accordingly,
highlights Mr. Clodoaldo Lopes de Assis.
Through such simple laboratory observations we can get a sense of how Brazilian snakes are yet poorly known regarding their natural history, where even common species like the false coral snake O. rhombifer can surprise us!
Mr. Clodoaldo Lopes de Assis adds in conclusion.
Original source: Lopes de Assis C, José Magalhães Guedes J, Miriam Gomes de Jesus L, Neves Feio R (2020) New defensive behaviour of the false coral snake Oxyrhopus rhombifer Duméril, Bibron & Duméril, 1854 (Serpentes, Dipsadidae) in south-eastern Brazil. Neotropical Biology and Conservation 15(1): 71-76. https://doi.org/10.3897/neotropical.15.e48564
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
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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?”
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.”
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.
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
With as many as 140 species, Atractus is the most diverse snake genus in the world, even though it can be found exclusively in Central and South America. However, these colubrid ground snakes seem largely under-researched, since there have been thirty-three species discovered in the last ten years only.
As concluded by a team of scientists, led by Alejandro Arteaga, Tropical Herping, Ecuador, this is the result of a lack of DNA information in the original descriptions of many of these species. Consequently, there have been a lot of specimens sitting in museum collection that remain either misidentified, or anonymous.
To address the issue around the problematic identification of these snakes and their correct placement in the tree of life, the scientists have studied the hereditary molecular differences in the genus using both newly collected specimens, as well as previous publications on the species occurring in the Pacific lowlands and the adjacent Andean slopes.
Their research results in a new paper, published in the open access journal ZooKeys, which describes a total of three new species from Ecuador. The authors also propose a new species group and a redefinition of a previously established one.
Interestingly, one of the new species is to be referred to as Cerberus Groundsnake, while in the books it will appear under Atractus cerberus. It is predominantly brown in colour with faint black longitudinal bands, and measures about 21 – 31 cm in length. The biologists justify the curious name of this species with the peculiar location where they spotted the first known specimen. Found at the gates of the newly formed “Refinería del Pacífico”, a massive industrial oil-processing plant, the authors were quick to recall the multi-headed monstrous dog Cerberus, known to be guarding the gates of the underworld, according to Greek mythology.
In terms of their conservation status, the scientists have proposed the Cerberus Groundsnake to be listed as Critically Endangered, according to the IUCN criteria, since its single known habitat is highly likely to be the only one, being isolated from any other similar habitats. Moreover, it comprises a relatively small patch of land, which in turn is declining in both size and quality due to deforestation. According to the IUCN criteria, a Critically Endangered status is given to a (group of) species whenever the best available evidence indicates that it faces an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.
The other two new species, the Indistinct (Atractus esepe) and the Pyron’s (Atractus pyroni) ground snakes are to be listed as Data Deficient as the information about them is currently insufficient for their risk of extinction to be assessed.
Having increased the number of Atractus species in Ecuador to twenty-seven, the authors expect that the count is yet to rise. “We hope that the novel genetic and morphological data provided herein will promote future researchers to examine species boundaries in Atractus, as additional work clearly is waiting,” they add.
Arteaga A, Mebert K, Valencia JH, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Peñafiel N, Reyes-Puig C, Vieira-Fernandes JL, Guayasamin JM (2017) Molecular phylogeny of Atractus (Serpentes, Dipsadidae), with emphasis on Ecuadorian species and the description of three new taxa. ZooKeys 661: 91-123. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.661.11224
Reaching over 3.5 m in length, the bushmaster (belonging in the Lachesis genus) is the largest viper in the western hemisphere. Legend spread among both colonists and natives from the Amazon region and Central America has it that it sings. Finding these numerous unrelated reports quite puzzling, since it is well known that snakes cannot sing, scientists took to finally disentangle the myth.
When the researchers recently conducted fieldwork in Amazonian Ecuador and Peru, they revealed it was not the snake singing. The ‘song’ was indeed the call of large tree frogs that live in hollow trunks in the forest.
One of the tree frogs is a new species, Tepuihyla shushupe. The word shushupe is used by native people to refer to the bushmaster. The calls are highly unusual for frogs because they are a loud chuckle resembling the song of a bird. It is still unknown why locals associate the calls of the two species with the bushmaster.
Ron SR, Venegas PJ, Ortega-Andrade HM, Gagliardi-Urrutia G, Salerno P (2016) Systematics of Ecnomiohyla tuberculosa with the description of a new species and comments on the taxonomy of Trachycephalus typhonius (Anura, Hylidae). ZooKeys 630: 115-154. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.630.9298
Günther’s sea snake (Microcephalophis cantoris), a rarely seen venomous sea snake with distribution thought to stretch from the Malay Peninsula to Pakistan, has now been recorded from Iranian coastal waters off the western Gulf of Oman, more than 400 kilometers away from the westernmost boundary of its previously known range.
In 1864, German-born British zoologist, Albert Günther (1830-1914), discovered a new species of highly venomous viviparous (giving live birth) sea snakes, thereafter named Günther’s sea snake. The species is famous because it has a very small head, compared to its body and is, therefore, sometimes called Günther’s narrow/small-headed sea snake. It is a rare species, and, since its discovery, it has only been recorded from the coastal waters of a few countries in the western Malay Peninsula and the Indian subcontinent.
During their survey, an adult Günther’s sea snake was caught by a fishing trawler (a fishing vessel pulling a baglike net) in Iranian coastal waters off the western Gulf of Oman. This was the first record of this rarely seen venomous viviparous sea snake in the area. The specimen is deposited and available in the Zoological Museum at the Shahid Bahonar University of Kerman, Iran.
As a result, the researchers have now published a checklist of the sea snake species in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, including this new record, in the open access journal ZooKeys.
There are about 60 living species of highly venomous viviparous sea snakes in the world, distributed throughout the tropical and subtropical coastal waters of the Indo-Pacific region. Out of them, nine have been previously recorded from the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Following the discovery of the Günther’s sea snake, the total number of sea snakes in the area is ten.
Rezaie-Atagholipour M, Ghezellou P, Hesni MA, Dakhteh SMH, Ahmadian H, Vidal N (2016) Sea snakes (Elapidae, Hydrophiinae) in their westernmost extent: an updated and illustrated checklist and key to the species in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman. ZooKeys 622: 129-164. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.622.9939
While snakes are well-known enemies to bats, their preying on the winged mammals has hardly been recorded. Furthermore, no bat as big and heavy as the common vampire, has been described being killed and eaten prior to the present study, published in the open access journal Subterranean Biology.
The study, where scientists, led by Sarah Martin-Solano, Universidad de las Fuerzas Armadas, ESPE, Ecuador, record a rainbow boa catching the bat, is the first known such case to have taken place on a cave’s floor. The documented observation serves to confirm that snakes do predate on bats in caves, and is also the first such case known from Ecuador.
Apart from the detailed description, the scientists also provide a film, showing almost in full the event of a rainbow boa catching, killing and swallowing an adult female common vampire bat.
The predation has been observed in a 450-metre-long cave in Tena, Ecuador. There, an adult female common vampire bat, one of the three bat species to feed exclusively on blood, was seen to fly into the cave right over the boa’s head and its waiting open jaws, raised some 30-35 centimetres above the ground.
The approximately 140-centimetre-long snake snatched the bat by the head and immediately brought it down to the floor. Having been strangled by the boa, the bat appeared to give up its resistance about two minutes later, although the predator did not let it go for another seven minutes. Once assured the mammal is dead, the snake started trying different positions from which to fit the bat in its mouth. However, this seemed particularly difficult due to the mammal’s size and the stiffness of its shoulder joints.
Eventually, the rainbow boa began constricting the body once again. Then, starting from the head, the snake managed to swallow the whole bat in 4 minutes and 50 seconds, with the predation measured to last about 25 minutes in total.
In conclusion, the authors suggest that more research needs to be undertaken, so that scientists can find out how common is for snakes to prey on bats in caves.
Martin-Solano S, Toulkeridis T, Addison A, Pozo-Rivera WE (2016) Predation of Desmodus rotundus Geoffroy, 1810 (Phyllostomidae, Chiroptera) by Epicrates cenchria (Linnaeus, 1758) (Boidae, Reptilia) in an Ecuadorian Cave. Subterranean Biology 19: 41-50. doi:10.3897/subtbiol.19.8731
Commonly known as fishing snakes, the Synophis genus has been expanded with as many as three new species following a research in the Andean cloud forests of Amazonian Ecuador and Peru. Not only is the discovery remarkable due to the rarity of new snake species being discovered, but also because this is the first time this mysterious and already eight-member genus is recorded from Peru. The study is published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.
The three new species have been identified as a result of both field and laboratory work, undertaken by Dr. Omar Torres-Carvajal, Museo de Zoología QCAZ, Ecuador, in collaboration with herpetologists from Peru (CORBIDI) and the United States (Francis Marion University). The new species differ from their closest relatives in scale features, male sexual organs and DNA. The unusual discoveries took place in areas within the 1,542,644 km2 of the Tropical Andes hotspot, western South America.
Although they are commonly known as fishing snakes, these reptiles most likely do not eat fish. Their diet and behavior are poorly known. So far, it has only been reported that one species feeds on lizards.
The fishing snakes have long been known to live in cloud forests on both sides of the Andes of Colombia and Ecuador. Yet, it seems they have waited all along to make an appearance. The new species described herein, along with a recent description of one species from southwestern Ecuador also published in Zookeys, has duplicated the number of species of fishing snakes from four to eight over the span of several months.
During their recent expeditions to several localities along the Andes of Ecuador and Peru the authors collected several individuals of fishing snakes, which they suspected to be previously unknown. After comparing their specimens with those deposited in a number of natural history museums, the authors’ suspicions only became stronger.
Consequently, the scientists examined the male snakes’ sexual organs (hemipenes) and DNA evidence. The results left no doubts that the specimens belonged to three undescribed fishing snake species.
“We started working with fishing snakes a year ago as new specimens were collected in poorly explored areas of the Amazonian slopes of the Andes in Ecuador and Peru,” explains lead author Dr. Omar Torres-Carvajal. “At that time only four species of fishing snakes had been described, and they were recognized in the literature as one of the most rare and secretive groups of snakes in South America.”
“In less than a year, we and other herpetologists doubled the number of known species of fishing snakes, showing that their diversity had been greatly underestimated,” he points out.
“This story is similar to the story of the woodlizards (Enyalioides), a group of dragon-like lizards with more than half of its species discovered in recent years in the tropical Andes,” the scientist reminisces.
“This tells us that this hotspot is more diverse than we thought, so it is very important that basic biodiversity research is properly funded,” Dr. Torres-Carvajal concludes. “Otherwise, we might never know what other scaly creatures are crawling around us.”
Torres-Carvajal O, Echevarría LY, Venegas PJ, Chávez G, Camper JD (2015) Description and phylogeny of three new species of Synophis (Colubridae, Dipsadinae) from the tropical Andes in Ecuador and Peru. ZooKeys 546: 153-179. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.546.6533.
Extremely rare and hidden in the forests of the Andes, there are still new snake species left to find. This has recently been evidenced by the colubrid serpent, described for the first time in the present article. Moreover, there is the vicious circle enwrapping its relatives: the harder it is to find more specimens, the tougher it is to describe and thus, start to identify them, which does not help in mapping their distribution and habitats. To address this issue, Dr. R. Alexander Pyron, The George Washington University, and his international research team have included a taxonomic review and discussion on the relationships and origin within a non-venomous snake tribe in a paper, published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.
Slender and small, the new species, called Synophis zaheri, measures less than 40 cm in length, or between 351 and 372 mm. Contrasting to its slim body with a distinct neck, separating the head from the body, its eyes are large and bulging, making up for more than a third of its head. Being black in colour, it is hard to tell the pupil and the iris apart. While the upper part of the body is grayish-brown with an iridescent sheen, the abdominal side stands out with its yellowish-white colouration.
Typically for the tribe, where the new species has been placed, it is also characterised with a highly modified spine and an enlarged scale row running over it. This is also where the name of this group of snakes comes from with “Diaphorolepidini” consisting of the Greek words for “differentiated” and “scales”. Not so clear, however, is the name of the genus, which the authors have translated also from Greek as “with snake”, but find themselves unaware of the meaning behind. The species is named after Dr. Hussam El-Dine Zaher, a Brazilian herpetologist whose work has been foundational for South American snakes.
In conclusion, the scientists note that the rarity of the observed snake species, especially the genus, where the new serpent belongs, accounts for the unclear species-boundaries as well as for the myriad of undescribed species. “Dipsadine diversity in the Andes is clearly underestimated, and new species are still being discovered in the 21st century,” they point out.
Pyron RA, Guayasamin JM, Peñafiel N, Bustamante L, Arteaga A (2015) Systematics of Nothopsini (Serpentes, Dipsadidae), with a new species of Synophis from the Pacific Andean slopes of southwestern Ecuador. ZooKeys 541: 109-147. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.541.6058