New species of vine snakes discovered

They are among the most common snakes in peninsular India, found even in peri-urban areas.

A team of researchers from the Centre for Ecological Sciences (CES), Indian Institute of Science (IISc), after extensive sampling across peninsular India, have discovered new species of vine snakes in the region.

Led by former IISc student Ashok Mallik, working as part of his doctoral research, the team carried out field visits across India to collect morphological data, tissue samples and specimens to understand the patterns of distribution and diversification of vine snakes. The study, published in the journal Zootaxa, was carried out in collaboration with researchers S.R. Ganesh from the Chennai Snake Park, Saunak Pal from the Bombay Natural History Society, and Princia D’souza from IISc.

Vine snakes are known to be among the most common snakes in peninsular India, found even in many peri-urban areas wherever there is some greenery, and in the Western Ghats.


According to an IISc release, Asian vine snakes, distributed throughout the continent, belong to the genus Ahaetulla and the recently described Proahaetulla. “Once the team started its research, they were surprised to discover that the common green vine snake (Ahaetulla nasuta) in India was a complex of several species. They found four distinct small-bodied and short-nosed species: the Northern Western Ghats vine snake (Ahaetulla borealis), Farnsworth’s vine snake (Ahaetulla farnsworthi), Malabar vine snake (Ahaetulla malabarica) and Wall’s vine snake (Ahaetulla isabellina) in the Western Ghats rainforests alone,” said the release.

These species were superficially similar in their morphology, but separated by geographic or ecological barriers.

The team also delineated the Travancore vine snake (Ahaetulla travancorica), separated by morphology and a geographic barrier from the Gunther’s vine snake (Ahaetulla dispar).

“All the vine snakes were assigned names related to the locality or based on a morphological character, but we named the species Ahaetulla farnsworthi after my favourite mad scientist, Dr. Hubert Farnsworth from the cartoon Futurama,” Achyuthan Srikanthan, a researcher at CES who was part of the team, said.

Finally, they recognised morphological distinctions between the brown vine snake in the Western Ghats and the one found in Sri Lanka, and gave the Western Ghats form a new name (Ahaetulla sahyadrensis). There are now six species of vine snakes endemic to the Western Ghats.

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Sagar Biswas

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