New grass snake species discovery in Europe

This 2016 video is called Natrix natrix helvetica hunting frogs 1. Natrix helvetica was then still considered a subspecies of the common grass snake.

From the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Germany:

A new snake in Europe: The Barred Grass Snake is described as a separate species

August 7, 2017

Together with an international team, Senckenberg scientists identified a new species of snake in Europe. Based on more than 1,600 snakes, the researchers were able to show that the “Barred Grass Snake,” whose range includes Western Germany, France, Great Britain, Switzerland and Italy constitutes a distinct species. In their study, published today in the journal Scientific Reports, the team examined two contact zones — in the Rhine region and in eastern Germany — where different genetic lineages of grass snakes meet.

The grass snake is among the most common and widespread snakes in Europe — yet relatively little is known to date about the genetic identity of these non-toxic reptiles, which can reach a length of up to one meter.

“We studied two areas where different genetic lineages of the grass snake come into contact. We discovered that the Barred Grass Snake, previously considered a subspecies, is in fact a distinct species (Natrix helvetica). The Barred Grass Snake is widely distributed throughout Great Britain, Switzerland, Italy and France, and also occurs in the western part of Germany. Thus, the number of European snake species has increased by one,” according to Professor Uwe Fritz, Director of the Senckenberg Natural History Collections in Dresden.

In the course of an international study led by Fritz, the professor’s doctoral student, Carolin Kindler, examined the genetic identity of more than 1,600 grass snakes — many of them scientific museum specimens. “This showed once again how valuable these — in part very old — collections can be,” explains Fritz, and he continues, “Modern methods such as genetics make it possible to gain entirely new insights from the collection specimens.”

Two “contact zones” of grass snakes were examined more closely by the scientists from Dresden: One of the zones is located in the Rhine region, the other extends from Central Germany down to the southern Balkans. In these zones, different genetic lineages of the grass snake meet, which in part had previously been thought to represent different subspecies. Such contact zones are viewed as natural laboratories for evolution, since they allow the study of hybridization and speciation.

The two contact zones examined in this study represent different stages in the speciation process: The eastern contact zone reveals a complete mixing of the involved genetic lineages over hundreds of kilometers. In the Rhine region, on the other hand, the hybrid zone is less than 50 km wide, and the admixture is very limited and unidirectional, primarily with Barred Grass Snakes cross-breeding with Eastern Grass Snakes, but rarely the other way around. “This indicates the presence of reproductive barriers,” explains Fritz. They arise during the speciation process to prevent mismatched pairings among different species. These reproductive barriers and the narrow hybrid zone show that the Barred Grass Snake constitutes a distinct species.

This conclusion is not without consequences. Grass snakes are under special protection in Europe and are considered threatened or highly threatened in some countries. “We now have to pay close attention to which species of grass snake is involved in each case, in order to be able to assess whether one of them may be more threatened than previously thought,” Fritz points out.

Capuchin monkeys, snake, rodent in Brazil

This video says about itself:

Snake Kills Rodent Which Fascinates Baby Capuchin – Wild Brazil – BBC Earth

2 August 2017

A family of Capuchin monkeys are scared of an approaching snake, but they need not worry this time, they both want to hunt rodents.

Smooth snake video

This is a smooth snake video from the Netherlands.

Grass snake video

This is a grass snake video from the Netherlands.

Adder on video

This is an adder video from the Netherlands.

Fossil snake discovery in Tennessee, USA

Zilantophis schuberti is a newly identified snake species found in eastern Tennessee. This small creature lived roughly 5 million years ago. Credit: Image by Steven Jasinski

From the University of Pennsylvania in the USA:

Fossil ‘winged serpent‘ is a new species of ancient snake

May 12, 2017

Summary: An ancient sink hole in eastern Tennessee holds the clues to an important transitional time in the evolutionary history of snakes. Among the fossilized creatures found there, according to a new paper, is a new species of snake that lived 5 million years ago.

An ancient sink hole in eastern Tennessee holds the clues to an important transitional time in the evolutionary history of snakes. Among the fossilized creatures found there, according to a new paper co-authored by a University of Pennsylvania paleontologist, is a new species of snake that lived 5 million years ago.

Steven Jasinski, lead author of the new study, is a doctoral student in Penn’s Department of Earth and Environmental Science in the School of Arts & Sciences and acting curator of paleontology and geology at the State Museum of Pennsylvania. He is completing his Ph.D. under Peter Dodson, a professor of paleontology in Arts & Sciences and professor of anatomy in the School of Veterinary Medicine at Penn.

The fossils come from the Gray Fossil Site near East Tennessee State University, where Jasinski and co-author David Moscato pursued their master’s degrees.

This study, published in the Journal of Herpetology, involved many hours of close examination of hundreds of dark mineral-stained snake fossils. In the end, the biggest surprise was the discovery of vertebrae that don’t match any known species of snake, living or extinct. The researchers named the new genus and species Zilantophis schuberti.

Snakes don’t have arms or legs, but they have high numbers of vertebrae,” Jasinski said. “These are often the bones that paleontologists use to identify fossil snakes.”

Zilantophis bore uniquely broad wing-shaped projections on the sides of its vertebrae. In life, these were likely attachment sites for back muscles. These features are what inspired the name of the new genus, derived from Zilant, a winged serpent in Russian mythology.

The species name, schuberti, honors Blaine Schubert, executive director of East Tenneessee State’s Don Sundquist Center of Excellence in Paleontology and advisor to both authors during their studies there. The name roughly translates to “Schubert’s Winged Snake” or “Schubert’s Winged Serpent.”

Zilantophis was a small snake, about 12-16 inches long.

“It’s about as large around as your pointer finger,” said Jasinski. “This animal was probably living in leaf litter, maybe doing a bit of digging and either eating small fish or more likely insects. It was too small to be eating a normal-sized rodent.”

“These snake vertebrae are tiny,” Moscato said. “Before we can study them, they have to be meticulously separated from the sediment and other bones. This work is done by dedicated museum workers, students and volunteers.”

Based on features of its vertebrae, this new species is thought to be most closely related to rat snakes (Pantherophis) and king snakes (Lampropeltis), both of which are relatively common in North America today.

The Gray Fossil Site is one of the richest fossil localities in the United States, particularly from the Neogene period, which spans from 23 million to 2.58 million years ago. Based on the extinct species found there, researchers estimate it to be between 7 and 4.5 million years old, straddling the boundary between the Miocene (23 to 5.33 million years ago) and Pliocene (5.33 to 2.58 million years ago) epochs. It is one of the only sites of this age in the entire eastern U.S., making it an important window into a poorly-known part of prehistory.

At the time that Zilantophis dwelled there, the site was a sinkhole surrounded by forest, attracting a variety of animals. The local fauna included ancient representatives of familiar North American creatures such as bears, beavers and salamanders. Others were more exotic, including unique species of rhinoceros, alligator and the site’s famous red panda.

“This is a time when the world was moving in the direction of a modern climate and modern fauna,” Jasinski said.

The snakes, too, were a mix of familiar and strange. In addition to the new species, there were ancient species of garter snake (Thamnophis), water snake (Nerodia), rat snake (Pantherophis), pine snake (Pituophis) and whip snake (Masticophis), among others. In total, the researchers identified seven different snake genera at the site, many of which are still found in east Tennessee today.

“Back in its day, the Gray Fossil Site was a great environment for living animals to thrive and for dead animals to fossilize,” Moscato said. “This makes for a paleontology goldmine, positively packed with bones.”

This is the first survey of snakes at this fossil site, and it focused specifically on identifying snakes of the family Colubridae, the largest snake family, which includes about two-thirds of all known living snake species.

“The Miocene was a time when the snake fauna of North America was undergoing significant changes,” Jasinski said.

In earlier times, boas, a group known for their robust vertebrae, were widespread and common across northern ecosystems, but as time went on the boas gradually retreated while colubrids, typically smaller than boas, took over. This shift coincided with continent-wide environmental change, including the replacement of forests with grasslands and the spread of small mammals that may have provided a food supply that fueled the expansion of colubrids.

“Zilantophis is part of this period of change,” Jasinski said. “It helps show that colubrids were diversifying at this time, including forms that did not make it to the present day.”

The find and continued investigations in this site help fill in details about the rich biodiversity of an ancient ecosystem as it underwent a shift in climate — details that can inform our understanding of the future as well.

“Snakes are important parts of their ecosystems, both today and in the past,” Jasinski said. “Every fossil helps tell a story, and all those pieces of evidence give scientists a clearer picture of the past, as well as tools to predict how living communities may respond to changes in the future.”

Adder males and females, video

This 11 May 2017 video shows male and female adders.

Males are usually greyish, with a black stripe on their back. Females are usually brownish, with a dark brown stripe on their back

Andries Ophof from the Netherlands made this video.