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New vine snake species discovered in Odisha after 113 years

A team of researchers has discovered a new vine snake species from Odisha after a gap of over a century. The last time a vine snake species was described was in 1906.

Vine snake is a slender rear-fanged snake with narrow heads and pointed snouts. Belonging to the family Colubridae, it has three prominent genera – Oxybelis found in the American continent, Thelotornis found in Africa and Ahaetull, which is distributed through India and Southeast Asia.

It took about 10 years of field and laboratory work to describe the new species. Scientists have named it Ahaetulla laudankia or Laudankia vine snake since it was found in Odisha. The local name for vine snakes in the eastern State is Laudankia or Laudaka, as the snake resembles dried stems (‘danka’) of bottle gourd (‘lau’).

The discovery has an interesting story behind it. In 2009, researchers collected a brown colored snake from Similipal Biosphere Reserve and they initially thought it may be haetullana sutaisabellinus, a sub-species of the common vine snake found in India. However, after studying another brown vine snake specimen (Ahaetulla pulverulenta) from Baripada also in Odisha, they noticed some variations in color between the specimens. The researchers felt that the specimen they had collected from Similipal may be a new variety. However, they came across three more specimens from Balasore district of Odisha, which further intrigued them.

Molecular analysis was conducted and it proved that the initial specimen was indeed a unique species. It was genetically distinct from green vine snakes. After reviewing all the literature pertaining to the brown colored vine snakes from India and after cross-validating with two old collections of brown vine snakes from Rajasthan, the team was convinced it had discovered of a new species. They have published a report on their work in the Journal of Natural History. The entire sequence of research took about a decade.

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