New Snake Species Leaves Scientists Scratching Their Heads

By Zack Zagranis | Published

New snake, who dis? Scientists recently discovered a previously unknown species of snake in Asia. This new serpent was initially thought to be a hybrid of two other snakes before scientists decided it was instead its own third thing.

The Ayeyarwady Pit Viper

Dr. Chan Kin Onn, a Herpetologist from the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum, led a recent study that determined a newly discovered pit viper found in Myanmar constitutes a whole new snake species.

The Ayeyarwady pit viper is unique for sharing a number of similar traits with its fellow pit vipers while at the same time displaying several different characteristics. “Asian pit vipers of the genus Trimeresurus are notoriously difficult to tell apart because they run the gamut of morphological variation.” explained researchers.

That’s because certain groups of Asian pit vipers contain many species that look alike but aren’t related, while others contain specimens that look completely different but are actually part of the same species.

Similarities To Other Pit Vipers

The redtail viper found along the northern coast of Myanmar is usually green with no markings on its body. Meanwhile, in southern Myanmar, the mangrove pit viper has distinct dorsal blotches that come in gray, yellow, brown, and black but never green.

In between the redtail pit viper and the mangrove pit viper lives a unique population that is green like the redtails with the blotchiness of the mangrove. This new snake, the above-mentioned Ayeyarwady pit viper—named after the Ayeyarwady Region in Myanmar where it was found—initially confused researchers.

Thought To Be A Hybrid

“This mysterious population in central Myanmar baffled us and we initially thought that it could be a hybrid population,” researchers wrote in the open-access journal ZooKeys. It was Dr. Chan who used modern genomic techniques to determine that the Ayeyarwady pit viper was not a hybrid species but rather something else entirely. Chan and the others discovered more interesting tidbits about the Ayeyarwady pit viper when they studied the new snake’s morphological features.

A Unique Discovery

The new viper is highly variable when it comes to appearance. Certain groups are dark green with distinct blotches, making them easy to tell apart from their cousin, the redtail pit viper—bright green with no blotches whatsoever. Meanwhile, other groups of the new snake species are bright green with no blotches, making them virtually indistinguishable from the redtails.

“This is an interesting phenomenon, where one species is simultaneously similar and different from its closest relative,” explained Dr. Chan. The doctor speculates that “at some point in the past,” the Ayeyarwady pit viper swapped genes with both the redtail pit viper and the mangrove pit viper.

The Venmous Snake Is Found In Myanmar

The river forms a large delta bordered by the Yangon River to the east Pathein River to the west. This delta is the primary home of the new snakes.If the Ayeyarwady pit viper sounds like it would make a cool pet, be warned. Like all pit vipers, the over-three-foot-long Ayeyarwady pit viper is highly venomous. While it would probably be useful if you ever need to scare off Indiana Jones, the pit viper would make a dangerous and decidedly less-than-cuddly pet. Then again, we know lots of cats that also fit that description, so who are we to judge?Source: ZooKeys