Pit viper discovered in Arunachal Pradesh
A new species of venomous snake discovered in Arunachal Pradesh has been named after J.K. Rowling’s fictional character Salazar Slytherin, co-founder of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
The pit viper, discovered by a team of researchers in the thick evergreen forests of Pakke tiger reserve in July 2019, has been named Trimeresurus salazar.
“The specific epithet is a noun in apposition for J.K. Rowling’s fictional Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry’s co-founder Salazar Slytherin. He was a Parselmouth that links him to serpents. The suggested common name is Salazar’s pit viper,” Harshal Bhosale, conservation officer at Bombay Natural History Society, said.
“Two specimens were found in field that helped diagnose the new species,” researchers Zeeshan A. Mirza, Bhosale, Pushkar Phansalkar, Mandar Sawant, Gaurang Gowande and Harshil Patel said in a paper published in the journal Zoosystematics and Evolution.
The discovery was made during a herpetological expedition between June 25 and August 5, 2019. Comparison of the specimens found near Pakke with T. septentrionalis and T. albolabris revealed that the latter represent a new species. “Molecular data for the specimens corroborate our morphological findings and allow us to describe a new species of green pit vipers from northeastern India,” the paper said.
The researchers said they collected two specimens of green pit viper, which resembled the species Trimeresurus septentrionalis and Trimeresurus albolabris in the number of dorsal scale rows and colouration.
However, these specimens differed in the colour of the lateral stripe on the head and the body in males.
The new species differed from its closely related species of green pit vipers in bearing a rusty red or orange lateral stripe along the head and the entire body. Comparison of DNA sequences and skull morphology of closely related species highlight the distinctness of the new species.
They said the specimens were found between 6pm and 10pm, coiled on shrubs along the road. A third specimen was seen but escaped in the thick undergrowth. The three snakes were seen during searches over six nights.
Arunachal Pradesh belongs to the Himalayan biodiversity hotspot and shows a high degree of heterogeneity in its landscape with elevation ranging from 100m to 7,000m and distinct climatic regimes that harbour diverse flora and fauna.
Mirza is associated with the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, Sawant is associated with the Bombay Natural History Society, Gowande with Pune’s Fergusson College and Phansalkar with the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun. Shripad Halbe and Brihad Bharatiya Samaj funded the study.
The authors said they are happy about discovering a new species of pit viper but are also worried as the proposed 49km Seijosa-Balukpong road will cut through the habitat of the new species.
“Roads take a heavy toll on life and data. Various studies have highlighted high mortality of snakes due to vehicular movement,” the paper said.
Underlining that forests across the Northeast have not been explored well for their biodiversity, especially reptiles, amphibians and most invertebrate groups, the authors said “anthropogenic pressures like road widening, construction of dams and hydropower plants threaten the forest and biodiversity across Arunachal Pradesh”.
Wildlife activists had earlier expressed concern over the road which has been designed as an elevated corridor near the border of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam.
The researchers said they have documented more species from the forests of Arunachal, which is likely to yield new species. Work is underway to describe them.