New snake species discovered, correctly identified after 144 years

Mumbai, March 4 (IANS) A new species of burrowing snake of the genus melanophidium has been discovered from the Northwestern Ghats and correctly identified after a gap of 144 years, a researcher said here on Friday.

The snake belong to family Uropeltidae, which comprises all species which are burrowers and live mostly underground, said researcher Varad Giri of National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru.

The genus Melanophidium, also commonly known as ‘Black Shieldtail’, is endemic to the Western Ghats and three species were previously known, said Giri.

However, these were wrongly identified as identified as Melanophidium Punctatum, or commonly called ‘Pied-bellied Shieldtail’ owing to the black white coloration on the belly of the snake.

The discovery is the result of meticulous efforts of last 15 years by David Gower of Natural History Museum, London and his colleague Mark Wilkinson, Giri, Ashok Captain of Bombay Natural History Society, Mumbai and Indian Herpetological Society, Pune.

During his visit to BNHS here in 2001, Gower observed the earlier three known species to realise that the specimens available with BNHS were a distinct species which was proved by fresh field surveys, additional research and taxonomic inputs.

The new species has now been correctly identified and named as ‘Melanophidium Khairei’ or Khaire’s Black Shieldtail, Giri said.

The research team’s finding was submitted the sceitnfic journal Zootaxa and the paper was published recently.

“We have named the new snake species after Neelimkumar Khaire, the legendary founder of Katraj Snake Park and Indian Herpetological Society, Pune, as a tribute to his knowledge and conservation of snakes in India since four decades,” Giri told IANS.

However, now much is known about Melanophidium Khairei which is a highly iridescent burrowing snake found in evergreen forests, but rarely above ground in southern Maharashtra, Goa and northern Karnataka.

The new discovery has been announced barely two days after another Indian team of researchers discovered a new snake genus and a species from Gujarat, which has been named Wallaceophis Gujaratenisis.

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