As the world marks International Day of Biological Diversity today –May 22, two new endemic snakes have been added to Sri Lanka’s unique biodiversity list – by Malaka Rodrigo
|New burrowing snake – Rhinophis lineatus|
Both snakes are non-venomous primitive burrowing snakes that live underground in loose soil and are commonly referred to as Shield-tailed snakes because of the keratinous shield at the end of their tail which helps them to burrow in loose soil.
The new snakes are classified as Rhinophis lineatus and Rhinophis zigzag. Dr. Maduwage first spotted the differences in these Uropetid or shield-tail snakes from similar breeds during a stint at the world Heritage Trust (WHT) a few years ago as a researcher.
Having carefully examined the specimens, he discovered three specimens from one species and two from another. Dr. Maduwage then compared scale characteristics with published evidence of other snakes of this genus and found that the two snakes did not match any other shield-tail snake.
Dr. Kalana Maduwage – a medical officer who has been studying snakes for over 10 years specially the Hump-nosed pit viper. In addition he also discovered 10 varieties of fish and discovered another species of Sri Lankan snake previously.
The numerous distinguished scale characters, the presence of multiple, narrow longitudinal stripes around and along most of the body helped distinguished Rhinophis lineatus from all other members of this genus.
Dr. Maduwage said the Rhinophis zigzag also had a distinctive and consistent colour pattern of a dark meandering/zigzag stripe which was absent in all other species of the group.
After initial observations in 2007, Dr.Maduwage contacted Dr David Gower –a leading expert on Shield-tail snakes. The experts then worked together on a research paper, which were published last week.
These unique variety of snakes are found only in Western Ghats of India & in Sri Lanka –both of which are hotspots in the world of biodiversity.
Prior to the latest discovery, only 13 species of the Uropetid snakes were known to exist. The 12 Sri Lankan species are endemic to the country. This means they are found only here.
In 2009, another species of the shield-tail snake was discovered at Rakwana by herpetologist Mendis Wickremasinghe and was categorized Rhinophis erangaviraji. The two new species were discovered at a single locality.
The Rhinophis lineatus is found only at Harasbedda near Ragala while Rhinophis zigzag was discovered at “Bibilegema Rd.” near Passara, in the Uva Province.
Published on SundayTimes on 22.05.2011 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/110522/News/nws_10.html