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.

Welcome to the House of Slytherin: Salazar’s pit viper, a new green pit viper from India

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.


Trimeresurus salazar sp. nov. juvenile male from Pakke Tiger Reserve.
Credit: Aamod Zambre and Chintan Seth, Eaglenest Biodiversity Project.
License: CC-BY 4.0

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.


Trimeresurus salazar sp. nov. holotype male BNHS 3554 in life
Credit: Zeeshan Mirza et al., 2020
License: CC-BY 4.0

Additional information

Contact:
Dr. Zeeshan A. Mirza
Email: snakeszeeshan@gmail.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/snakeszeeshan
Instagram: zeeshan_a_mirza

Original source:

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

Iranian coastal waters: New home to a rarely seen venomous sea snake

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.

Scientists Mohsen Rezaie-Atagholipour, Qeshm Environmental Management Office, Qeshm Island, Iran, Parviz Ghezellou, Medicinal Plants and Drugs Research Institute, Shahid Beheshti University, Iran, Dr. Nicolas Vidal, Département Systématique & Evolution, Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, France, and three Iranian fellows, are collaborating on a project on the biodiversity of sea snakes in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman.

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.image1

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.

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Original source:

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