Indian researchers discover a new species of vine snakes in Western Ghats

  • A new species of vine snake, belonging to an ancient lineage dating back to 26 million years, has been discovered in the Agasthyamalai hills
  • Scientists found that the snake is actually a member of the Ahaetuliinae clade, which currently comprises of the arboreal snake genera Ahaetulla and others,

New Delhi: Indian researchers led by Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, have discovered a new species of vine snakes, slender green tree snakes commonly found in South Asia in the Western Ghats.

The new genus and species of the vine snake, Proahaetulla antique, was found from the Agasthyamalai hills in the southern Western Ghats, a biodiversity hotspot.

“It was a visually unusual vine snake", the researchers wrote in their paper published in the scientific journal PLOS One, "with distinct morphological differences from all recognized vine snakes from that region".

It had 12-13 partially serrated reptile scales on the upper side, 20 maxillary (upper) teeth and 3 postocular scales lying directly behind and in contact with the eye.

Scientists found that the snake is actually a member of the Ahaetuliinae clade, which currently comprises of the arboreal snake genera Ahaetulla and others, which spend most of their time on trees.

It had a sister relationship with all currently known taxa belonging to the genus Ahaetulla which is widely distributed in Peninsular India and Sri Lanka as well as in Southeast Asia, found the team. Most of the Asian vine snakes distributed throughout Asia, belong to the genus Ahaetulla.

Further studies on the history of the species revealed that the new genus is in fact quite ancient and diverged from other vine snakes nearly 26 million years before. It is one of the oldest persisting single-species lineages of snakes in the Western Ghats, reported the team.

This discovery adds to the growing list of ancient lineages endemic to the Agasthyamalai hills, part of the southern Western Ghats, a global biodiversity hotspot with a high diversity of snakes. While the mountain range has been explored since the colonial period, the systematics of snake fauna remain poorly known.

Many new species of trees, invertebrates, fish and birds have been discovered in the region over the years. An increasing number of herpetological expeditions have been carried out by researchers looking for new discoveries of reptiles and frogs.

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