Sunday, 24 July 2016

New venomous snake discovered in Costa Rica

Date: July 18, 2016
Source: University of Central Florida

An international team of scientists has solved a case of mistaken identity and discovered a new species of venomous snake.

Credit: University of Central Florida
The newly discovered Talamancan Palm-Pitviper is a striking green-and-black snake living in some of the most remote regions of Costa Rica. The coloring is a characteristic it shares with its close relative the Black-Speckled Palm-Pitviper. In fact, these two species look so similar that the Talamancan Palm-Pitviper went unrecognized for more than 100 years. It is a case of cryptic speciation, where two species look almost identical, but are genetically different.

"It's a really interesting phenomenon," said University of Central Florida biologist and professor Christopher Parkinson who led the team that made the discovery. "It shows some of the complexities we deal with when cataloging biodiversity and underscores the importance of maintaining natural-history collections. Discovering this species would not have been possible without the specimens housed in natural-history museums."

The team's findings are published in the July 15 online issue of the academic journal Zootaxa.

The team first discovered evidence of the new species in 2001 during a genetic analysis of the palm-pitviper clade. Parkinson, an expert in venomous snakes, and his graduate students noticed some unusual genetic differences among the snakes they were studying. They began questioning if they could have a distinct new species on their hands. However, these snakes live at high elevations, in low densities and are rare even in their natural habitat, making it difficult to find the samples needed for thorough comparisons.

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