Photo of Bothriechis hussaini, yellow-black snake species

Photo of Bothriechis hussaini, yellow-black snake species
This Bothriechis hussaini has only just been discovered and is already threatened with extinction. © Alejandro Arteaga /CC by 4.0

It is estimated that there are several million still undiscovered animal species living on our planet. Recently, however, this yellow-black snake species, Bothriechis hussaini, and four closely related species are no longer included. Apparently the iridescent snakes were very serious about their discovery, because one of them brought science to the attention of itself by biting the finger of a researcher on a jungle expedition.

“I experienced intermittent local pain, dizziness and swelling, but recovered shortly after administering three doses of antivenom in less than two hours after the bite, leaving no scar,” says Lucas Bustamante of the Ecuadorian Tropical Herping initiative. In fact, the bite was a stroke of luck because it helped Bustamante and his colleagues identify a total of five new species of venomous otters. Until now, all of these snakes had been assigned to one and the same species – the prehensile-tailed lance viper (Bothriechis schlegelii).

The venomous snake is characterized by spine-like, bar-shaped scales over the eyes that look a bit like eyelashes. Hence the English name “Eyelash Viper”. Bothriechis schlegelii is also multicolored. “No two individuals have the same coloration, even if they belong to the same litter,” explains lead author Alejandro Arteaga from the Khamai Foundation. Individuals of the same species range from turquoise to moss-colored to golden and purple. Therefore, in addition to the external inspection of the new snake species, genetic analyzes were also needed to confirm that they belong to different species.

The newly discovered snakes live in the jungles and cloud forests of Colombia and Ecuador. However, 50 to 80 percent of their habitat has already been destroyed, which puts the venomous snakes in the “critically endangered” category shortly after their discovery. In addition, their dazzling color range makes them extremely popular with poachers. Arteaga and his colleagues are therefore calling for active protection of the scaly beauties.

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