Roadkill leads to discovery of burrowing snake

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A new burrowing snake was added to the list of species endemic to Sri Lanka when International Day of Biological Diversity was marked on Monday, strengthening the country’s image as a biodiversity hotspot.

Mendis Wickremasinghe

A new non-venomous ‘shield tailed snake’ that lives under the soil was discovered from the Badulla District. The scientific paper describing this new species appeared in prestigious scientific journal ZooTaxa.

The new species is yet another discovery by veteran herpetologist Mendis Wickremasinghe, who recalls that he first saw the snake as a single roadkill specimen in 1999 in Beragala. Later, during an island-wide herpetology survey, Mr Wickremasinghe decided to search the area.

The researchers dug randomly selected locations that are habitats for such species. They got lucky and found a snake hidden under the soil layer of a banana plant of a home garden in 2010. The snake was found about 15 centimetres deep and had a highly-modified head, bearing a blade-like rostral scale for burrowing.

Mr. Wickremasinghe said about 30 individuals could be observed during subsequent visits to the same locations. More such snakes were observed from the same locality and in suburban areas like Haldummulla with some of them seen moving above ground at night.

The new snake belongs to a group called rhinophis. It was named rhinophis roshanpererai to honour the late Roshan Perera, who was an instructor of the reptiles group of the Young Zoologist’s Association of Sri Lanka in recognition of his dedicated services to wildlife conservation.

With the new discovery, this rhinophis genus now has 20 such snake species with 16 of them found in Sri Lanka that are endemic to the country. The other four snakes are endemic to India. Three of these Sri Lankan species have been recently described in 2009 and 2011. Mr Wickremasinghe said there could be more snake species that belongs to this group, emphasising need for more studies.

Dulan Ranga Vidanapathirana and Gehan Rajeev too assisted in this new finding. Mr Wickremasinghe also thanked the principal sponsors, Dilmah Conservation.

New gecko species with black markings
A new species of gecko, too, joined the list of Sri Lankan species last month. This creature lives in the Knuckles range and was previously confused with a similar gecko species. The researchers Sudesh Batuwita and Sampath Udugampala extensively studied the features of these geckos and established the identity of the new species. They named it cnemaspis kandambyi.The gecko has distinct black markings on the nape and a black lateral stripe begins behind the eye and extends laterally beyond the origin of the forearm.The species was named in honour of Dharma Sri Kandamby, the former curator of the vertebrate section of the National Museum of Sri Lanka, for his contributions to the herpetology and for his guidance to a number of researchers.

Published on 28.05.2017 on SundayTimes http://www.sundaytimes.lk/170528/news/roadkill-leads-to-discovery-of-burrowing-snake-242678.html

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