Colourful Panamanian snake new to science

Adult individual of Sibon noalamina (© Sebastian Lotzkat)

From Wildlife Extra:

Brightly coloured snake from Panama new to science

Newly discovered snake named “no to mining”

September 2012. Scientists from the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt have discovered a new snake species in the highlands of western Panama. The scientific name of the brightly coloured reptile, Sibon noalamina, means “no to the mine.” It was chosen to call attention to the fact that the habitat of this harmless snail-eating snake is severely threatened by human activities. The researchers are concerned that other species of amphibians and reptiles, which were discovered in the region during the last years, share the same fate.

The snake, Sibon noalamina, is completely harmless to humans. The light and dark-ringed reptile at first sight resembles a well-known and widespread species of snail-eater snake. However, closer examination revealed the non-venomous snake to represent a hitherto unknown species.

The three individuals that we caught during several expeditions between 2008 and 2010 in the montane rainforests of western Panama differ markedly from all known species of snakes, especially in scale characteristics,” says Sebastian Lotzkat, research associate of the Herpetology Department at Senckenberg Research Institute Frankfurt. “Therefore we newly described the species – it now bears the name Sibon noalamina.”

Snail eaters

Like all representatives of the genus Sibon, the new species belongs to the so-called snail-eaters. Apart from snails and slugs, these nocturnal animals feed on other soft-bodied prey like earthworms and amphibian eggs. Instead of defending themselves with bites, the non-venomous snakes deter potential predators with their appearance: With its alternating light and dark rings, Sibon noalamina mimics the contrasting warning coloration of venomous coral snakes.

The snake inhabits the mountain range known as Serranía de Tabasará in the Comarca Ngöbe-Buglé, an autonomous territory established in 1997 for the indigenous peoples Ngöbe and Buglé. Here, the extreme poverty among the population results in the highest deforestation rate in Panama: more than one-fifth of the Comarca’s forests were lost in the 1990s alone. Moreover, the region’s enormous ore deposits – especially the copper deposit in the Cerro Colorado area – are in the focus of mining companies.

As the exclusive home of several amphibian and reptile species endemic to this mountain range, the Serranía de Tabasará is a little biodiversity hotspot of its own, although still largely unexplored.

We know from Rogelio Moreno, whose consent as chief general of the Comarca has made our studies possible, that the local people completely depend on the natural resources for their livelihoods,” Lotzkat states, and complements: “We request the Panamanian authorities to initiate, in collaboration with the indigenous authorities, measures to better explore, conserve, and sustainably use the biodiversity of the Serranía de Tabasará!”

The study was published in the scientific journal “Zootaxa”.

See also here. And here. And here.

9 thoughts on “Colourful Panamanian snake new to science

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