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Wednesday, December 02, 2020

IISc researchers discover five new species of vine snakes in peninsular India

According to the Institute, the team carried out field visits across India to collect morphological data, tissue samples and specimens to understand the patterns of distribution and diversification of vine snakes.

By: Express Web Desk | Bengaluru | Updated: November 13, 2020 5:15:39 pm
vine snakes, vine snake varieties, vine snake species, iisc research, iisc researchers, vine snakes in india, indian expressVine snakes: Ahaetulla farnsworthi and Ahaetulla sahyadrensis

A team of researchers from the Centre for Ecological Sciences (CES) of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) recently discovered five new species of vine snakes during their study in various parts of peninsular India.

According to the Institute, the team carried out field visits across India to collect morphological data, tissue samples and specimens to understand the patterns of distribution and diversification of vine snakes.

Led by Ashok Kumar Mallik as part of his doctoral research, the team discovered that the common green vine snake (Ahaetulla nasuta) in India was a complex of several species. While four distinct small-bodied and short-nosed species were found in the rainforests of the Western Ghats, another morphologically distinct and much larger species was found across the lowlands and drier parts of peninsular India, the team noted.

The newly discovered species from the Western Ghats include the Northern Western Ghats vine snake (Ahaetulla borealis), Farnsworth’s vine snake (Ahaetulla farnsworthi), Malabar vine snake (Ahaetulla malabarica) and Wall’s vine snake (Ahaetulla isabellina) in the Western Ghats rainforests alone. “These species were superficially similar in their morphology but separated by geographic (or ecological) barriers. Another morphologically distinct and much larger species, the long-nosed vine snake (Ahaetulla oxyrhyncha), was distributed in the lowlands and drier parts of peninsular India,” Mallik explained.

He added that the widely distributed species may comprise many cryptic species, which can only be detected by genetic analysis. “Our earlier discovery of another deeply divergent vine snake Proahaetulla antiqua suggests that the entire lineage of vine snakes (Ahaetulla) evolved around 26 million years ago during the mid-Oligocene from its sister group Proahaetulla,” he said.

Meanwhile, Achyuthan Srikanthan, a researcher at CES who was part of the team, said while all other vine snakes were assigned names related to the locality or based on a morphological character, the species Ahaetulla farnsworthi was named after his favourite cartoon character. “We decided to name this species after my favourite mad scientist Dr Hubert Farnsworth from Futurama (a popular animated television series), who inspired me to become one,” Srikanthan added.

Further, the team also delineated the Travancore vine snake (Ahaetulla travancorica), separated by morphology and a geographic barrier from Gunther’s vine snake (Ahaetulla dispar). “They also recognised morphological distinctions between the brown vine snake in the Western Ghats and the one found in Sri Lanka and gave the Western Ghats form a new name (Ahaetulla sahyadrensis). There are now six species of vine snakes endemic to the Western Ghats,” a statement from IISc mentioned.

The study has been published in the journal Zootaxa and was carried out in collaboration with researchers S R Ganesh from the Chennai Snake Park, Saunak Pal from the Bombay Natural History Society, and Princia D’souza from IISc.

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