Tuesday, March 09, 2010

That Maine Gaboon Viper

A dead Gaboon viper was found stretched across a trail in Saco, Maine. The F&W warden said it was probably released the day before and froze overnight. (News source.)

Since this has now hit the crypto websites, let me add a few points to suggest that not all may be what it seems.

a) "But this one was dead, after succumbing to the cold of even a mild Maine winter night."

So, point one, nobody ever saw the snake alive in the wild.

b) "... the colorful viper stretched almost 5 feet and lay in the trail, much as the snakes do in their native sub-Saharan Africa as they lie in wait for prey."

So, the viper was supposed to be stretched out waiting for prey in March in Maine? With daytime times in the 40-degree range? Seriously? Snakes require heat to digest prey, and Gaboon vipers require far more heat than native snakes in Maine. With cooler temperatures, a Gaboon viper would have crawled off into the woods and disappeared inside a tree, probably to freeze to death and never be found again. Instead, this snake was found dead, stretched in a hiking trail where it was most likely to be spotted?

c) Gaboon vipers of this size and coloration are worth a few hundred bucks. Why release it when it wouldn't be hard to find a hobbyist (in another state, sure, to be legal) to take it off your hands? This isn't a 15-foot Burmese python, which is a bit more difficult to find appropriate-sized caging for.

A far more likely scenario: someone in Maine (illegally) owned a Gaboon viper that died on them. So, to create a prank, they stretched it out on a walking path.

And, while we're at it, let's note the idiotic statement of the Maine F&W warden:

"'They're not legal in Maine. You could not get a permit for that,' Spahr said. 'I don't even know if they would be legal in the U.S.'
"He said such a snake would probably have to be purchased on the black market – or on the Internet."

No, Gaboon vipers are not "illegal in the U.S." A simple internet search (and some common sense) would show that. No, the snake would not "probably have to be purchased on the black market." They are perfectly legal to purchase in many states, including here in Pennsylvania. Gaboons are often available at the venomous-included reptile shows. Venomous snakes are not good pets for everyone, but neither are many other animals that can still be kept safely and humanely by responsible pet owners.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Going out on a Limb...

I'm going to say the human-headed snake is a fake...

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Titanoboa Neighbors

Smaller crocodyliforms were probably prey to the huge Titanoboa, being found in the same fossil site. (News source.)

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bosom Serpents

A weird Fortean phenomenon, have to wonder if it has any relationship to Münchausen syndrome.

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Monday, December 07, 2009

Heron vs Snake

Down in Maryland, a northern water snake was enjoying its meal (a fish), when it was grabbed by a great blue heron. (Pic)

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Catalina Island Rattlers Distinct?

Researchers are investigating whether the rattlesnakes on Santa Catalina Island may be a different subspecies from their California mainland kin. (News source.)

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Friday, October 30, 2009

2-Headed Snake

AP has video on a 2-headed snake discovered in Illinois. They misidentify it as a watersnake, though. It's a juvenile ratsnake.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Giant Canadian Snakes: A Published Article

There is an excellent paper recently published on the examination of a large snake skin found in Manitoba. ("A shed skin from a large individual (>2m; Fig. 1) was collected ca. 100 meters from the shoreline of northern Lake Martin in southern Manitoba. The shed was found in a crotch of a tree near the ground.") Investigator John Warms provided the specimen for testing, and it was confirmed as a Boa constrictor shed. While the particular findings were not unexpected, the authors note "Molecular phylogenetics allows definitive tests on purported cryptozoological specimens. While such analyses cannot dispute the existence of legendary beasts, it can shed light on individual claims." This paper shows how a proper objective scientific methodology can be very beneficial to cryptozoological investigations of alleged specimens.

Giant Canadian Snakes and Forensic Phylogenetics
Brian I. Crother, Mary E. White, David Gardner, and John Warms
Contemporary Herpetology 2009(2): 1-4

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Friday, October 09, 2009

Normandy Nessie

A Florida witness claims to have seen a strange snakelike creature twice in a deep water canal along Normandy Road at Madeira Beach. (News source.)

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Monday, September 14, 2009

One-Legged Snake

A Chinese woman killed what looks like a "one-legged snake." (News source.)

The leg is coming out of the snake's stomach region, however, so despite the similar coloration, it doesn't look like it actually belongs to the snake.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Some New Discoveries

A few new invertebrates were discovered "during a cave diving expedition to explore the Tunnel de la Atlantida, the world's longest submarine lava tube on Lanzarote in the Canary Islands..." (News source.)

The "green bomber" is a new marine annelid that casts off glowing green appendages to fool predators. (News source.)

Several interesting fossils, including "stone tools, a remarkably preserved primate skull and the claws, jawbone and other bones of several species of Caribbean sloths" were discovered in an underwater cave in the Dominican Republic. (News source.)

A new pitviper (not rattlesnake, as the news account states) was discovered in Cao Bang province, Vietnam. (News source.)

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Friday, July 03, 2009

Snake Story in Maine

A "monster snake," "perhaps up to 17 feet long" was reported in a Rumford, Maine, canal. (News source.)

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Perception and Reality

A good example of why critical examination of stranger stories is necessary, here with a Kentucky man's confused perception of local herpetofauna, and how that affected his interpretation of events he witnessed.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Snake Causes Hysterical "Sickness" Outbreak

55 children in India became sick after they learned that an 18-inch snake had been found in the cooked rice of their noon-day meal. The snake didn't cause the illness, of course. (Snakes are routinely cooked and eaten in other parts of the world.) More of a case of the power of suggestion... (News source.)

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Saturday, June 06, 2009

Giant Anaconda?

A father and son team out of the UK claims that they have photographic evidence for a giant anaconda. The pic shown at the url doesn't look like a giant snake, though, (too thin, looks to be within the range of known anacondas), so I'm not sure what that's doing there, or if it is in fact the claimed evidence. (News source.)

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

New Viper

Atheris mabuensis, from northern Mozambique. (Zootaxa)

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Friday, February 20, 2009

OT: PIJAC Python Alert

This deserves a little more notice: here is a pdf of the Pet Industry council's alert on an idiotic political attempt to classify pythons as injurious species in the US, banning their import and interstate transportation.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Yes, They're Fake

Who exactly is being fooled by these obvious fake photos of a giant snake in Borneo?

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Giant Snake Reported

A 39-foot (12 meter) snake (but only 8 inches thick) is being reported by terrified farmers in the Córdoba region of Colombia. (The dimensions, of course, are incompatible. Such a large snake would be much thicker.) (News source.)

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Titanoboa

A giant fossil snake (Titanoboa cerrejonensis) has been described from Columbia.

Researchers "used the ratio between vertebral size and the length of existing snakes to estimate that this boa-like snake must have reached 13 meters (42 feet) in length and weighed more than a ton." (Eurekalert; also, here)

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Barbados: OOP Snakes

A few non-native snakes have been killed in Barbados, and a few more are believed still loose. Commentary here by the president of the Caribbean Herpetological Society.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

2008 Abstract: Long-tailed Rattlesnake

A New Long-Tailed Rattlesnake (Viperidae) From Guerrero, Mexico

Jonathan A. Campbell and Oscar Flores-Villela

Herpetologica
Vol. 64, no. 2 (June 2008): pp. 246-257

Abstract: A distinctive new species of rattlesnake is described from the western versant of the Sierra Madre del Sur of Guerrero, Mexico. This long-tailed rattlesnake cannot be confused with any other species of rattlesnake and is most similar to Crotalus stejnegeri and C. lannomi. The Guerrero species possesses a strikingly distinct color pattern and differs from all other rattlesnakes in aspects of lepidosis. Mexico continues to be the origin of newly discovered species that provide important insights into the evolution or ecology of particular groups. A few examples from recent decades include Exiliboa placata, a monotypic, relictual dwarf boa (Bogert, 1968), Rhadinophanes monticola, a monotypic, highland colubrid (Myers and Campbell, 1981), and Pseudoeurycea aquatica, the only aquatic bolitoglossine salamander (Wake and Campbell, 2001).

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Italian Big Snake Story

An old story of a big reptile in Italy is noted by the Irish Times.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Python vs Cockatoo Photos

An Australian woman took a series of photographs of a wild python swallowing a cockatoo. (News source.)

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Big Fossil Snake

A boa-like fossil snake found in Colombia may have reached 12.8 meters and a ton in weight. (News source.)

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Strange Snake in Southern Vietnam


A leucistic specimen of a native snake has become one Vietnamese family's pet. (New source.) I can't specifically identify the genus from the photo; from the shape of the head, and the fact it eats eels, it might be Cylindrophis. (The hand, held towards the camera, makes the snake seem larger than it actually is.) If I could see the tail, I could determine that quickly, as pipe snakes are fairly distinctive. I can't rule out a homalopsine, though, without better images.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tall Tales in Virginia

Southampton County, VA, residents are falling for conspiracy stories that wildlife officials have released rattlesnakes via helicopter... (News source.)

The same rumors of secretive predator introductions have been spread (whether of rattlesnakes, mountain lions, or coyotes) throughout North America, and even in other parts of the world ("viper introductions" in France, etc.).

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

2-Legged Snake Mis-ID

An alleged "two-legged snake" turned out to be a snake that had recently eaten a frog; the legs protruded through the snake's skin after the snake was beaten to death, creating an odd chimaeric reptile. (News source.)

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Monday, September 08, 2008

"Big Snake" in Indiana

From Mishawaka, Indiana:

"
[It] all started three weeks ago when the Scott family found a mound of sand and gravel in their backyard.
"One member of the family even spotted what they thought was a huge snake head."

They called professionals, who said it might be a large exotic snake or a large native ratsnake. The problem, of course, is that large snakes don't create mounds of sand and gravel. They may take over a burrow, but this sounds like a misidentification, probably not a snake at all. (Offhand don't know if this part of Indiana has bullsnakes, but that would be more likely than a ratsnake.)

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Phika: Folklore of the Mamba?

Botswana folklore has stories of the Phika, or "devilish serpent," with fantastical (and deadly) abilities. When investigating reports, the Department of Wildlife comes up with the same species: the black mamba. (New source.)

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

That Fiji Blind Snake

Apparently, blind snakes are big right now...

A blind snake was first reported from Vuna, on Taveuni, back in 1897 (source), but has only recently been rediscovered and confirmed as a new species. (News source.)

There are, of course, probably many more blind snakes that haven't been properly evaluated, around the world. Given that some are invasive, only a specialist would be able to determine whether a specimen is a known endemic, an introduced species, or an undescribed species.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Burmese Pythons Staying in Everglades

A new study shows that climatic changes are likely to limit the invasive Burmese python to southern Florida. (Eurekalert)

"The results of the models suggest that the pythons are restricted to the vicinity of the Everglades in extreme south Florida, so while wildlife authorities will have their hands full dealing with established populations of these snakes, people outside of Florida should not fear an inexorable northward expansion."

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Sunday, August 03, 2008

Smallest Snake Discovered

A tiny threadsnake discovered in Barbados appears to be the smallest snake species as yet discovered. Adults average just under four inches in length. (News source.)

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Peninsula Python

Peninsula, Ohio, is celebrating Peninsula Python day, regarding a 1944 giant snake flap. (News source.) And yes, you'll find articles on the flap in Boss Snakes.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

"Python" Shot and Lost

A Putnam Co., Georgia, sheriff's deputy shot and killed a large snake (alleged but not confirmed a python) in the waters of Lake Sinclair. The snake sank to the bottom, and no pictures were taken. (News source.)

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Big Snake or Not?

From the Baldwin (Georgia) Bulletin:

"The Baldwin Bulletin recently filed a story about a large python snake that had been spotted on Lake Sinclair.

"In the week that followed, The Baldwin Bulletin sold out at nearly every rack and the newspaper’s phone lines lit up.

"So, have there been any more sightings?

"'No. We haven’t heard anything more. It’s actually been a full month since we’ve received a call,' said Corp. Lynn Stanford with the Georgia Department of Resources. 'I think that the snake either succumbed to its surroundings or its owner may have found it.'

"The DNR received roughly five phone calls from homeowners near the Twin Bridges and Haslam’s Marina side of Lake Sinclair during the first week of May. Witnesses said that the snake was between 6–8 feet long. The calls then suddenly stopped and no more reports have been received."

Hard to say without having seen the original published description, but if the length is the primary characteristic, it's possible that it was an exaggerated misidentification of a native watersnake.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Big Snake in the UAE?

An unusual snake photo was published in the GulfNews, with the following details:

"Ras Al Khaimah: Municipality engineers on a helicopter assignment on Tuesday pictured a snake believed to be one of the longest found in the mountains of Al Rams area.

"The team of engineers were on an assignment for planning and surveying the remote areas when they spotted the snake.

"A team member said they asked the helicopter pilot to fly lower and used a telephoto lens to take the picture. They said the snake was half inside a burrow and what they could see was several metres long.

"The engineers showed the pictures to their colleagues at the reptile section in the municipality, where the officials said had never encountered such a long snake in the UAE or the region."


Now, the photograph (shown) could be better. Only the body is shown, not the head. From the pattern and body size, though, we can see that it is a variant of the longest snake known in the UAE, Psammophis schokari. A similar pattern can be seen here. This species is common throughout North Africa and the Middle East, and is found in several different morphs. It reaches a bit over 5 feet in length. "Several meters" as reported in this news item may be exaggeration, or perhaps a larger-than-recognized individual, but we're not talking about a monster snake here.

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Saturday, May 31, 2008

FL: Huge Snake Spotted

A large "black" snake was spotted eating a crane along Bear Creek River (Tampa area), Florida. A wildlife trapper called to the scene wasn't able to find it, but suggested it was a Burmese python or a green anaconda that had darkened as it aged. (News source.)

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

More on the NC Cobra Scare

A woman claims to have seen one of the alleged roaming cobras, but a search by a reptile rescue group comes up empty. (News source.)

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

OOP Cobra?

A North Carolina man reported seeing an 8-foot snake that reared up beside him while he was on an ATV in Cumberland County. A wildlife rehabber suggests it was a king cobra. Police are checking it out. Not enough of a description is given for me to determine whether or not the identification matches, but given that kings run about a grand (give or take), I doubt someone would just release one into the woods. Too easy to find a buyer. (News source.)

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Monday, May 05, 2008

OOP Python

A dead 12-foot python was found in a channel of Nippersink Lake (near Chicago, IL). It's thought that snappers may have eaten the head. (News source.)

(I'm thinking retic morph, as it's oddly patterned, but it looks like it is badly decomposed, so can't be certain from the poor images shown... doesn't appear to be a boa or Burmese.)

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Seven-Colored Snake

There's a strange report of a "seven-colored" snake from Nepal, found in a well. (News source.) "Another local Jagat Raj Khanal said the snake has already changed four colors." Not sure what that means, as snakes don't change color like that... (shades, sometimes, but that obviously isn't the case here). In any case, the snake is becoming a tourist attraction and religious icon. There are a number of species of snakes in Nepal, so hard to say what exactly is responsible for this. Of course, it's possible that several snakes are taking refuge in the well, confusing the issue.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Recently Described Snakes

Two interesting snakes have been described recently in Zootaxa.

The first is a new species of false water cobra, called Hydrodynastes melanogigas. (At present, I've only seen the abstract, not the full paper.) From the abstract:

"A new species of Hydrodynastes is described from the State of Tocantins, Central Brazil. The new species is distinguished from all congeners by having a melanistic color pattern, with head and dorsum of the body mostly dark-brown to black; absence of postocular stripe; venter grayish-brown, with dark rounded blotches outlining two lateral stripes which become gradually paler towards the posterior region of the belly, disappearing after midbody."

The second is a species of Pseudoboa, a group of nocturnal prey-constricting colubrids. Pseudoboa martinsi is a "brightly colored species" in the Amazon basin of Brazil. (abstract)

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Big Rattlesnake

A six-foot eastern diamondback rattlesnake was killed when it entered a Florida resident's backyard. (News source, includes picture of snake.) (Which gives opportunity to mention again, Boss Snakes: Stories and Sightings of Giant Snakes in North America...)

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Boss Snakes

Now available, Boss Snakes: Stories and Sightings of Giant Snakes in North America. More details here.

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Download for Giant Spitting Cobra Description

You can download a pdf of the paper describing the new species of giant spitting cobra noted previously here.

Get an eyeful of this: a new species of giant spitting cobra from eastern and
north-eastern Africa (Squamata: Serpentes: Elapidae: Naja)
WOLFGANG WÜSTER & DONALD G. BROADLEY
Zootaxa 1532: 51–68 (2007)

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Friday, December 07, 2007

New Giant Spitting Cobra

A new species of "giant" spitting cobra was described from Kenya. Naja ashei reaches almost nine feet in length. The late James Ashe, founder of the Bio-Ken snake farm, first caught the snake in the 1960s, and suggested it was a new species. (News source.)

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

California Snake Identified

The "15-foot" mystery snake in Stockton, CA, has been identified as a 6-foot boa, from a shed skin found in the area. (News source.)

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Friday, November 30, 2007

15-foot Snake Reported

Several homeless people in Stockton, California, have reported seeing a 15-foot snake near a local waterway, the Mormon Slough. From descriptions, it has been tentatively identified as a Burmese python. (News source.)

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ethnoknown Viper Hunt

A news article from the Telegraph (Calcutta) notes that a year-long hunt in Arunachal Pradesh, in search of a large dangerous snake was successful, with the capture of two specimens.

"Barta, as the local Nyishi tribesmen call the six-foot-something reptile, is the most-feared creature among the tribes in Arunachal Pradesh.
"According to Nyishi folklore, sighting of a barta, meaning the deadliest of all the snakes, is a bad omen." ...
"'Going by the colour, count and patterns of the newly-found snakes which differ from Protobothrops kaulbacki, another species of pit viper snake spotted by Ronald Kaulback in the forests of Upper Myanmar in 1940, it can be said that it is probably a new species found never before in the forests. Although at a glance they look similar to the snake found in Myanmar, their features differ from Protobothrops kaulbacki. The blood samples of the snakes have been sent for DNA tests to a Hyderabad-based laboratory this month. We are awaiting an official confirmation,' Bhatt told The Telegraph."

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Friday, October 05, 2007

Two Heads

Two young boys caught a baby two-headed snake in Iowa. Their mother plans to release it after a few days. (A better plan would be to donate it to a museum, as two-headed snakes are unlikely to survive long in the wild.) (News source.)

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Snake Isn't Boa

A snake scare near Chicago turned out to be caused by a native fox snake, not an exotic constrictor. (News source.)

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Addendum and details Oxyuranus temporalis - the new taipan species

Earlier on March 9th, 2007, it was reported that a new species of taipan was discovered in Australia.

However, it was neglected to mention more specifics of this new snake.

In the paper “A new species of taipan (Elapidae: Oxyuranus) from central Australia”, researchers P. Doughty, B. Maryan, S.C. Donnellan and M.N. Hutchinson (in Zootaxa 1422: 45-58: 2007) described Oxyuranus temporalis.

The new species, name after its varied temporal scales from its two sister species, was collected near Walter James Range in Western Australia on September 22, 2006 at around 4 p.m. by M.N. Hutchinson after being spotted from an automobile.. Its primary distinguisher from O. microlepidotus and O. scutellatus, its sister species taipans, is via one primary temporal scales (vs. two) and six lower labials (vs. seven). Subsequent genetic analysis also differentiated the three sisters.

The holotype measures just under 3 feet in length, and exhibits a brownish coloration with spotted locales of yellowish-white.

This marks the third species of taipan known, and the first in 125 years. Suggestive by the researchers that taipans were once more widespread through Australia. These snakes are among the most venomous in the world, so additional research and collection of this 3rd species will be necessary to determine its distribution, toxicity, and size.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

New Taipan Found

RESEARCHERS have found a new species of taipan snake slithering in the outback.
Similar to the western brown snake, the still unnamed species was discovered during an expedition to a remote region about 200km northwest of Uluru in September last year.

Mark Hutchinson, reptile and amphibian curator at the South Australian Museum, caught the immature female taipan while it was crossing a dirt track.

Dr Hutchinson bagged the 1m venomous snake and sent it to the Western Australian Museum in Perth for inspection.

"It was a bit of a surprise," he said. "You usually don't find a new species that big out in the open - well, not in Australia."

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Monday, February 12, 2007

A Madagascar Blindsnake Rediscovered after 100 Years


Not what I'd call a major rediscovery (any burrowing species is going to be elusive under the best conditions), but this particular species of blindsnake was last seen in 1905. From FoxNews:

"The snake, which looks like a long, skinny pink worm, was only known from two other specimens, both discovered in 1905.
"'They're really rare because they're subterranean,' said blind-snake expert Van Wallach of Harvard University, who described the new specimen. 'You can't just go out anytime you want and collect these things. You can dig forever and never find them.'

"Scientists captured the snake, called Xenotyphlops mocquardi, alive in 2005 during an expedition to collect reptiles and amphibians in northern Madagascar. The specimen was approximately 10 inches long and about as thick as a pencil.
"There are about 15 species of blind snakes on the island, so the unique nature of the team's find wasn't apparent until the blind snake specimen was sent to museum experts for identification and possible comparison with dead specimens in their collections." ...

"The rediscovered blind snake is detailed in the Feb. issue of the journal Zootaxa."

[Full news archived at StrangeArk mailing list.]

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Anaconda Attack

A young boy in Brazil was saved from a large anaconda by his grandfather. From the news:

"An eight-year-old boy was saved by his grandfather after a five-metre anaconda in Brazil began to swallow him headfirst.
"Local newspaper Bom Dia Rio Preto reported that Mateus Araujo had been walking near a creek with his eight-year-old cousin Flavio when they were attacked by the giant snake.
"It bit Mateus in the chest and coiled about him. It then attempted to swallow him head first.
"Flavius ran to Mateus's 66-year-old grandfather Joaquim's house.
"Joaquim ran to the creekbed and found his grandson slowly being eaten by the monster snake.
Joaquim attempted to free his half-devoured grandson by attacking the serpent with a machete, and after a battle that Bom Dia said took over half-an-hour, he managed to pull his son from the anaconda's mouth.
"The python was killed by locals afterwards, and Mateus received several stitches to the right side of chest, where he had been bitten.
"Mateus, from Sao Paolo, had been visiting his grandfather's farm in the municipality of Cosmorama, a small township about 400 kilometres north of Sao Paulo."

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Xenotyphlops Found

The genus Xenotyphlops consists of one known species. That of the enigmatic blind snake from Madagascar Xenotyphlops gradidieri.

First discovered by Francois Mocquard the blind snake was described in 1905 and given the designation Typhlops grandidieri . This description and classification was based on two specimens of the snake with an unclear range location.

For 100 years the snake had not been reported again. In 1996 the species was redescribed as the Xenotyphlops grandidieri in Redescription of a Rare Malagasy Blind Snake, Typhlops grandidieri Mocquard, with Placement in a New Genus (Serpentes: Typhlopidae) V. Wallach, Ivan Ineich Journal of Herpetology, Vol. 30, No. 3 (Sep., 1996), pp. 367-376

But still no rediscovery of the species or genus had happened.

But, this has now ended. The description and documentation of a collected 3rd specimen from the northern section of Madagascar has been done, this rediscovered snake has external and internal features sufficiently different to classify it as a distinct species itself.

The full article is printed in Zootaxa 1402:59-68 (2007) within the entry Rediscovery of the enigmatic blind snake genus Xenotyphlops in northern Madagascar, with description of a new species authored by V. Wallach, V. Mercurio and F. Andreone.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Rhabdophis Toxins: From Toad to Snake


The small colubrid snakes of the genus Rhabdophis have a shady past in the pet trade. Because they resemble certain harmless garter-snake like species, they were imported into the U.S. and U.K. under the wrong names, and ended up causing medically-significant emergencies when they bit their new owners. Rhabdophis are one of the few rear-fanged groups that can cause serious harm or even fatalities. A new study shows where they acquire this toxicity:


"A new study shows that the Asian snake Rhabdophis tigrinus becomes poisonous by sequestering toxins from its prey which consists of venomous toads. The research is published in the current issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Analyzing differences between snakes living on toad-rich and toad-deficient islands in Japan, Researchers lead by Deborah A. Hutchinson of Old Dominion University in Norfold, Virginia, found that Japanese grass snake or Yamakagashi, as the snake is known locally, did not manufacture its own venom, but instead relied on that found in toxic toads:
"'The researchers found that snakes living on Japan’s toad-free island of Kinkazan lacked the toad’s toxic bufadienolide compounds completely. Snakes from Ishima, where toads are plentiful, had high levels of bufadienolides. R. tigrinus from Honshu, where toad numbers vary, displayed a wide range of bufadienolide concentrations. Feeding R. tigrinus hatchlings toad-rich and toad-free diets confirmed these results.'

"The study also found that snake mothers with high concentrations of the toxin are able to pass bufadienolide toxin on their offspring helping protect them from predators.
"The Yamakagashi stores the sequestered toxins in 'a series of paired structures known as nuchal glands in the dorsal skin of the neck,' according to the researchers. When threatened the snake takes a defensive position that exposes the toxin-containing nuchal glands to predators.

"While sequestering defensive toxins from prey is unusual among terrestrial vertebrates it is not unknown. Research published last year by Valerie C. Clark of Cornell University showed that poison dart frogs (Dendrobates species) and their Madagascar counterparts, the Mantella frogs, sequester toxic skin chemicals, called alkaloids, from the ants they eat. These alkaloids protect the frogs from predation. Similarly, some garter snakes are known to store tetrodotoxin from ingested newts while birds in New Guinea appear to sequester poisons from insects.

"Citation: 'Dietary sequestration of defensive steroids in nuchal glands of the Asian snake Rhabdophis tigrinus' by Deborah A. Hutchinson, Akira Mori, Alan H. Savitzky, Gordon M. Burghardt, Xiaogang Wu, Jerrold Meinwald, and Frank C. Schroeder."




"What is more, when attacked, snakes on different islands react differently. On Ishima, snakes stand their ground and rely on the toxins in their nuchal glands to repel the predator. On Kinkazan, the snakes flee.
"'Snakes on Kinkazan have evolved to use their nuchal glands in defence less often than other populations of snakes, presumably due to their lack of defensive compounds,' says Hutchinson.
"Moreover, baby snakes benefit too. The team showed that snake mothers with high toxin levels pass on the compounds to their offspring. Snake hatchlings thus also enjoy the toad-derived protection."

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