New snake species discovery in Eurasia


An individual of the new rat sake species, Elaphe urartica, from Armenia. Credit: Boris Tuniyev

From PeerJ:

New snake species in Europe named after a long-forgotten Iron Age kingdom

May 28, 2019

An international team of scientists identified the snake and its range, which includes Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Iraq, Iran, and Russia including a small region extending into the corner of Europe. Based on the genetic and morphological data, the researchers were able to say that the Blotched Rat Snake (Elaphe sauromates) actually comprises two different species and includes a cryptic species — dubbed Elaphe urartica — that has been named after the old kingdom of Urartu.

The kingdom, forgotten for over a thousand years, flourished between the 9th and 6th centuries BCE in the region of today’s Armenian Highlands, centered around Lake Van in Turkey, where this new snake species occurs. The name was chosen out of respect for the original scientific name of the Blotched Rat Snake proposed by the famous Prussian natural historian of the 19th century, Peter Simon Pallas.

The name Elaphe sauromates refers to Sarmatians, a confederation of nomadic peoples who inhabited vast areas of the recent range of the Blotched Rat Snake between the 5th century BCE and 4th century CE. According to Daniel Jablonski and David Jandzik, lead scientists of the project from the Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia, these snakes are very rarely observed in the field and are mostly distributed in geopolitically complicated regions. As a result, the material for their study was collected for over 17 years and required a broad international collaboration.

The new snake species is a member of large-bodied snakes of an iconic genus Elaphe, which is very popular with snake hobbyists. The discovery and analysis of the biogeographical history of this new snake fills in an important piece of the Eurasian biota evolutionary puzzle.

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Dutch grass snake swims, video


This video is from a hot April day in Limburg province in the Netherlands. A grass snake swims to cool off a bit.

Rens Hensgens made this video.

Sea snakes can dive deeply


This 2014 video says about itself:

In this exciting adventure, Jonathan travels to Manuk, a tiny, uninhabited volcanic island several hundred miles from the nearest populated island in Indonesia, on a mission to discover why the waters of this remote place are teeming with thousands of venomous sea snakes!

From the University of Adelaide in Australia:

Sea snakes make record-setting deep dives

April 2, 2019

Sea snakes, best known from shallow tropical waters, have been recorded swimming at 250 metres in the deep-sea ‘twilight zone‘, smashing the previous diving record of 133 metres held by sea snakes.

Footage of a sea snake swimming at 245 metres deep, and another sea snake at 239 metres has been provided to University of Adelaide researchers by INPEX Australia, an exploration and production company operating in the Browse Basin off the Kimberley coast of Australia. Both snakes appeared to belong to the same species.

Sea snakes are found in tropical waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans and are typically associated with shallow water habitats like coral reefs and river estuaries.

“Sea snakes were thought to only dive between a maximum of 50 to 100 metres because they need to regularly swim to the sea surface to breathe air, so we were very surprised to find them so deep”, says Dr Jenna Crowe-Riddell, lead author of the study and recent PhD graduate at the University of Adelaide’s School of Biological Sciences.

Oceanic depths between 200 and 1000 metres encompass the mesopelagic zone, sometimes called the ‘twilight zone’ because only a small amount of light reaches that depth.

“We have known for a long time that sea snakes can cope with diving sickness known as ‘the bends’ using gas exchange through their skin,” says Dr Crowe-Riddell. “But I never suspected that this ability allows sea snakes to dive to deep-sea habitats.”

These record-setting dives raise new questions about the ecology and biology of sea snakes.

“In some of the footage the snake is looking for food by poking its head into burrows in the sandy sea floor, but we don’t know what type of fish they’re eating or how they sense them in the dark,” she says.

The snakes were filmed in 2014 and 2017 using a remotely operated vehicle or ‘ROV’ undertaking work for the INPEX-operated Ichthys LNG Project. …

Published in the journal Austral Ecology, the study is a collaboration between the University of Adelaide, the INPEX-operated Ichthys LNG Project, James Cook University in Australia, and The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts (KADK) in Denmark.

Kangaroo rats against rattlesnakes


This 26 March 2019 video says about itself:

Kangaroo rat defensive kicking of rattlesnake while jumping

High speed recording of a desert kangaroo rat (Dipodomys deserti) defensively kicking away a sidewinder rattlesnake (Crotalus cerastes) in mid-air. The animals are free-ranging in their natural desert habitat at night, and filmed with high speed cameras using near-IR lights invisible to both species. The video is recorded at 500 frames per second, and playback is slowed down about 30 times. This clip shows the ability of kangaroo rats to avoid venom injection even when bitten by using a forceful mid-air kick to dislodge the snake and push it away. Scientific details of this study are published in Freymiller et al (2019, doi 10.1093/biolinnean/blz027). Find more information and additional bonus videos here.

See also here.

African sideways striking snake discovered


This 2008 video says about itself:

This is footage of a stiletto snake (Atractaspis microlepidota) striking and then eating a fuzzy mouse. These snakes are frequently confused with nonvenomous snakes and have caused bites to herpetologists who accidentally (or intentionally) pick them up.

From ScienceDaily:

New species of stiletto snake capable of sideways strikes discovered in West Africa

March 11, 2019

Summary: During surveys in the Upper Guinea forest zone of Liberia and Guinea, scientists discovered snakes later identified as a new to science species. It belongs to the stiletto snakes, spectacular for their unusual skulls, allowing them to stab sideways with a fang sticking out of the corner of their mouths. The discovery is further evidence supporting the status of the region as unique in its biodiversity.

Following a series of recent surveys in north-western Liberia and south-eastern Guinea, an international team of researchers found three stiletto snakes which were later identified as a species previously unknown to science.

The discovery, published in the open-access journal Zoosystematics and Evolution by the team of Dr Mark-Oliver Roedel from the Natural History Museum, Berlin, provides further evidence for the status of the western part of the Upper Guinea forest zone as a center of rich and endemic biodiversity.

Curiously, stiletto snakes have unusual skulls and venom delivery system, allowing them to attack and stab sideways with a fang sticking out of the corner of their mouths. While most of these burrowing snakes are not venomous enough to kill a human — even though some are able to inflict serious tissue necrosis — this behaviour makes them impossible to handle using the standard approach of holding them with fingers behind the head. In fact, they can even stab with their mouths closed.

The new species, called Atractaspis branchi or Branch’s Stiletto Snake, was named to honor to the recently deceased South African herpetologist Prof. William Roy (Bill) Branch, a world leading expert on African reptiles.

The new species lives in primary rainforest and rainforest edges in the western part of the Upper Guinea forests. Branch’s Stiletto Snake is most likely endemic to this area, a threatened biogeographic region already known for its unique and diverse fauna.

The first specimen of the new species was collected at night from a steep bank of a small rocky creek in a lowland evergreen rainforest in Liberia. Upon picking it up, the snake tried to hide its head under body loops, bending it at an almost right angle, so that its fangs were partly visible on the sides. Then, it repeatedly stroke. It is also reported to have jumped distances almost as long as its entire body. The other two specimens used for the description of the species were collected from banana, manioc and coffee plantations in south-eastern Guinea, about 27 km apart.

“The discovery of a new and presumably endemic species of fossorial snake from the western Upper Guinea forests thus is not very surprising,” conclude the researchers. “However, further surveys are needed to resolve the range of the new snake species, and to gather more information about its ecological needs and biological properties.”

Ecopassages save Canadian rattlesnakes’ lives


This 20 February 2019 video from Canada says about itself:

The Clever Idea That’s Reducing Rattlesnake Casualties

Ecopassages, which help snakes cross roads safely, have helped dramatically limit the number of snakes killed in Ontario. Here’s how they work.

How sea snakes avoid predators


This 2015 video says about itself:

Many people don’t realize that there are snakes that live in the ocean. And believe it or not, they’re actually considerably more venomous than land snakes! Jonathan travels to Australia and the Philippines to find these marine reptiles, and learns why they are almost completely harmless to divers.

From the University of Adelaide in Australia:

‘Seeing’ tails help sea snakes avoid predators

February 15, 2019

New research has revealed the fascinating adaptation of some Australian sea snakes that helps protect their vulnerable paddle-shaped tails from predators.

An international study led by the University of Adelaide shows that several species of Australian sea snakes can sense light on their tail skin, prompting them to withdraw their tails under shelter. The study has also produced new insights into the evolution and genetics of this rare light sense.

The researchers found that olive sea snakes (Aipysurus laevis) and other Aipysurus species move their tail away from light. They believe this is an adaptation to keep the tail hidden from sharks and other predators.

“Sea snakes live their entire lives at sea, swimming with paddle-shaped tails and resting at times during the day under coral or rocky overhangs,” says study lead author Jenna Crowe-Riddell, PhD candidate in the University of Adelaide’s School of Biological Sciences. “Because sea snakes have long bodies, the tail-paddle is a large distance from the head, so benefits from having a light-sense ability of its own.

“The olive sea snake was the only reptile, out of more than 10,000 reptile species, that was known to respond to light on the skin in this way.”

The researchers tested for light-sensitive tails in eight species of sea snakes, but found that only three species had the light-sense ability. They concluded the unique ability probably evolved in the ancestor of just six closely related Australian species.

“There are more than 60 species of sea snake so that’s less than 10% of all sea snakes,” says Ms Crowe-Riddell. “We don’t know why this rare sense has evolved in just a few Aipysurus species.”

The researchers used RNA sequencing to see what genes are active in the skin of sea snakes. They discovered a gene for a light-sensitive protein called melanopsin, and several genes that are involved in converting light into information in the nervous system.

“Melanopsin is used in a range of genetic pathways that are linked to sensing overall light levels around us. It is even used by some animals, including humans, for regulating sleep cycles and in frogs to change their skin colour as a camouflage,” says Ms Crowe-Riddell.

Lead scientist Dr Kate Sanders, ARC Future Fellow at the University of Adelaide, says: “We’ve confirmed the ability of olive sea snakes to sense light in their tails and found the same ability in two other species. We’ve identified a shortlist of genes that are likely to be involved in detecting light. But further study will be needed to target these genes before we can really understand the genetic pathways involved in this fascinating behaviour.”