August 19, 2021 8:03:10 pm
In 2007, pursuing his PhD, Abhijit Das, now a scientist at Wildlife Institute of India, stumbled upon a snake while surveying the Barail Hill Range in Cachar District, Assam. “I found it near a small evergreen forest stream and though I felt it looked different from the ones we commonly see there, I had little evidence at that time,” he said. Extensive surveys from northeast India and genetic analysis have now revealed that the snake was indeed a new species.
Though it has been previously sighted in Tripura and Bangladesh, they were mistaken to be another species, Rhabdophis himalayanus, and now genetic studies have revealed that the two are close relatives.
The team named it Rhabdophis bindi, as it had a red marking on the nape region “and reminiscent of the red beauty spot adorning the foreheads of Indian women and signifying the point of creation of the cosmos,” notes the paper published last week in Zootaxa.
We welcome Bindee keelback snake (Rhabdophis bindi), a beautiful new natricine snake from #northeastIndia . Often confused with Rhabdophis himalayanus, a species found in the mountains, the #newspecies is restricted to lowland rainforests. #india #snakes #Bangladesh pic.twitter.com/alyPQ5894j
— வீ.தீபக்|V.Deepak 🐢🦎🐍🔬 (@DeepakVeerappan) August 13, 2021
There are 27 species of this genus found across South, East and Southeast Asia. Snakes of the Rhabdophis genus are found to be poisonous (they contain a special nuchal gland that contains toxins) and some are venomous. According to biologists, venomous means a bite/sting can inject toxins, whereas poisonous means you can get the toxin if you eat them.
A distinct characteristic of this new snake was the absence of the nuchal groove and nuchal glands. “These glands contain cardiotonic steroid toxins known as bufadienolides. These bufadienolides are extracted from the poisonous toads it eats and reuses it as a defensive mechanism,” explained Naitik G Patel, a PhD scholar at WII and one of the authors of the paper.
On average, the males and females of the species measured about 730 mm and 697 mm in length respectively. Their body was dark brown in colour with a few white and black markings and a peculiar scarlet mark on the top of the neck. When asked if this mark serves any purpose, lead author Dr Das explained: “Members of the Rhabdophis genus have been seen to have a very distinct red band or distinct redneck. When threatened they expand this neck region almost similar to a cobra. This is called aposematism, whereby they advertise – ‘I am dangerous or poisonous, don’t come near me.’” Dr. Das added that R. bindi was a very docile snake and didn’t try to bite or attack and more studies are needed to fully understand the function of the red dot.
Considering its small and restricted habitat, the team suggested that R. bindi be considered a vulnerable species according to the IUCN red list criteria. Dr. Das added that its habitat is currently facing threats from encroachment and agricultural activities.
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