Posts Tagged ‘Snakes’

Sri Lanka could be home to more new snake species

February 10, 2013

Today, February 10, marks the dawning of the Chinese New Year, and this year is the Year of the Snake. While billions of Chinese will be thinking about the Snake and its zodiacal impact on their lives over the next 12 months, environmentalists here are thinking of the snake and its survival in Sri Lanka, even as new undescribed species are making an appearance.

Ahaetulla nasuta – Green vine snake (Ahatulla). Pic by Dushantha Kandambi

Balanophis ceylonensis – Sri Lanka keelback- (Nihaluwa). Pic by Dushantha Kandambi

A new study on Sri Lankan snakes has appeared in the international research journal, Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.

Despite its small size relative to larger islands such as New Guinea, Borneo, and Madagascar, Sri Lanka has one of the most evolutionarily diverse island snake faunas in the world. New endemic species are being identified, and there may be more waiting to be discovered.

Dr. Ruchira Somaweera, one of the scientists involved in the project, says the researchers learnt a lot about the origins of local snake fauna, and how they colonised the island and evolved.

Dr. Somaweera, who works for the Biologic Environmental Survey (Australia), said Sri Lanka was lucky to have a team of keen young herpetologists, many of whom had contributed to the research project. Dushantha Kandambi and Vishan Pushpamal conducted field work and looked after the logistics of project. The research was carried out in collaboration with Dr. Alexander Pyron of George Washington University (US) and colleagues from the City University of New York.

Sri Lanka is already famous as an amphibian hotspot. Ninety-five of the known 111 species are endemic.

The new study focused on the evolutionary roots of Sri Lankan snakes and finding their place in the global snake evolutionary tree.

Sri Lanka is home to 89 species of inland snakes (excluding species that permanently live in sea water), of which at least 49 are endemic. This includes five endemic groups: Aspidura (Rough-side snakes), Balanophis (Blossom krait), Cercaspis (Sri Lanka wolf snake), Haplocercus (Black-spined snake), and Pseudotyphlops (Large shield-tail snake) – snakes found only in this country.

The study suggests that the Sri Lankan snake fauna may soon rival its amphibians as a global center of endemism and diversity. Only a handful of snakes are lethally venomous, so learn to identify them and let the others live in peace as snakes are an important part of our biodiversity.

Published on SundayTimes on 10.02.2013

Two new endemic snakes slither into Lanka’s unique biodiversity list

May 22, 2011

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 
Rhinophis zigzag 

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