100-year case of mistaken identity solved, new venomous snake found

20 Jul 20166 Shares

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The newly-discovered talamancan palm-pitviper, via University of Central Florida

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A “striking” looking green-and-black snake has been discovered in Costa Rica after scientists solved a century-long case of mistaken identity.

No longer to be confused with the black-speckled palm-pitviper, the newly-named talamancan palm-pitviper has been documented in Costa Rica, following a 15-year study.

In a case of what’s called “cryptic speciation” – where two species look almost identical, but are genetically different – Christopher Parkinson and his team claim the new species was hidden for over 100 years.

talamancan palm-pitviper venomous snake

Surprise find

The team was running a genetic analysis of palm-pitviper snakes in 2001, and found that certain identical-looking snakes were not genetically similar.

To investigate it further, they needed access to snakes now known as talamancan palm-pitvipers, though they live in almost inaccessible lands in Costa Rica.

Instead turning towards natural history museums, enough examples were found to run accurate tests.

“It’s a really interesting phenomenon,” said Parkinson, of the University of Central Florida, who published a paper on the subject in Zootaxa.

“It shows some of the complexities we deal with when cataloguing biodiversity and underscores the importance of maintaining natural-history collections. Discovering this species would not have been possible without the specimens housed in natural-history museums.”

Discovering this species would not have been possible without the specimens housed in natural-history museums, said Prof Chris Parkinson, via University of Central Florida

Discovering this species would not have been possible without the specimens housed in natural-history museums, said Prof Chris Parkinson, via University of Central Florida

Evolutionary intrigue

The toxin which the snake has in its armoury has only recently been discovered in non-rattlesnakes, meaning the talamancan palm-pitviper could be important for further evolutionary studies.

Although many parts of Costa Rica are well explored, and the nation has invested in documenting its biodiversity, new species continue to be discovered.

“This discovery highlights the necessity for strong conservation initiatives,” Parkinson said. Many undisturbed areas around the world are being developed before scientists get a chance to document their flora and fauna.

“There’s no telling what other species are yet to be found and how they might benefit mankind.”

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Gordon Hunt is a journalist at Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com