Mumbai: A team of young Indian researchers and naturalists have recently discovered a new snake genus and species in Gujarat, it was announced here on Thursday.
The snake genus has been named Wallaceophis in honour of the legendary 19th century British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), considered the father of biogeography, while the snake species has been named Gujaratenisis to commemorate the western Indian state where it was discovered.
The team included researchers Zeeshan Mirza, Raju Vyas, Harshil Patel, Rajesh Sanap and Jaydeep Mehta and their discovery has been documented in the respected international journal, Plos One’s issue on Thursday.
Herpetologist Mirza, the lead author of the study works with the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru, and had come across a picture of the snake in a paper published by then undergraduate student, Vyas, in 2007.
“This snake was really odd looking and called Vyas for his opinion on the snake’s identity, but barring the image, he had no other information,” Mirza said.
After seven years, Patel, researcher from Gujarat studying reptiles and amphibians in the southern parts of the state, informed Mirza that the snake has been discovered by a snake rescuer, Mehta, and now it would be possible to identify it.
Mirza, Sanap, Vyas, Patel and Mehta got down to researching it, comparing specimens from Gujarat with available information and other measures to identify it.
Armed with Vyas’s data of 12 members of the same species from different locations in Gujarat, based on scalation, tooth numbers, bone morphology and DNA, it was identified as belonging to a group of colubrid snakes.
Colubrids include racers, royal snakes and whip snakes, but differ considerably not only to term it as a new species but also an entirely new genus to embody it.
Colubrid snakes “Family Colubridae” are present around the world with more than 1,800 species.
Gujarat was a different place way back in the past, especially Saurashtra and Kutch regions, which were isolated islands and only after considerable rise of Himalayas and increase in the Antarctic ice sheet growth, the global sea level dropped by 50 metres which re-shaped landmasses worldwide, including Gujarat.
Mirza said it is quite likely that the so-called less biodiverse state would yield many more interesting biota in the future.
“In the 21st century, more than 100 new species of reptiles and amphibians have been discovered in India, many in the Western Ghats and the North-Eastern parts of the country, but the rest of India remains relatively less explored,” said Patel.
The Wallaceophis Gujaratenisis is presently found in just seven localities of Gujarat and virtually nothing is known about its biology, said Vyas who has extensively documented the reptilian fauna of that state.