Scientists discover a coral snake species from Himachal Pradesh

MANGALURU: Researchers from the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bengaluru, Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun and the Natural History Museum (NHM), London have rediscovered a snake that was thought to be lost for 120 years.

The scientific paper was authored by Zeeshan A. Mirza of NCBS, Vishal Varma of WII and Patrick Campbell of NHM is published in the international journal Zootaxa

Zeeshan said, the snake, called as the Black-bellied coral snake (Sinomicrurus nigriventer) was described in 1909 as a variety of the McClelland’s coral snake (Sinomicrurus macclellandi) from Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh by the British naturalist Col. Frank Wall. The species was not considered as valid species and was thought to be a variant of the McClelland’s coral snake however a road-killed specimen collected from near Solan in 2019 by Vishal Varma changed views of scientists about the species. DNA data of the newly acquired specimen showed that it is distinct from all other species of the coral snakes of the genus and in particular with the only species of the genus known from India.

He compared the scalation data of the snake with specimens in the collection of the Natural History Museum and Zoological collection of the University of Copenhagen and results support the uniqueness of the snake from Himachal Pradesh. The snake is currently known to be distributed in Solan and Shimla district of Himachal Pradesh. The Himachal Pradesh forest department is quite supportive and provided the necessary support to conduct the work.

“Most work conducted on the herpetofauna of Himachal Pradesh was undertaken during the British era and many species were merely identified based on external characters which is not sufficient to identify cryptic species. Biodiversity of the Western Himalayas is said to be a subset of Eastern Himalayan; however, we beg to disagree with this and hope to show that the diversity of the Western Himalayas is also distinct as in case of the coral snake,” Zeeshan said.

Zeeshan Mirza is working with college students from the state to document the diversity of reptiles, amphibians and arachnids. He and his colleagues have been working on the study of reptiles of the country. He has described over 43 new species to science that include snakes, lizards, tarantulas and scorpions.




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