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New species of non-venomous keelback snake found in Arunachal Pradesh

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Arunachal Pradesh
15 Feb 2019
New species of non-venomous keelback snake found in Arunachal Pradesh

Recent discoveries such as a new species of burrowing eel, a new sub-subspecies of endangered hog deer and several species of frogs, geckos, diatoms and insects, have put the northeastern region of India in the limelight. This time, researchers from Help Earth and the French National Museum of Natural History have discovered a new species of keelback snake in Arunachal Pradesh. Northeast India is home to about 110 species of snakes, with over half of them being found in Arunachal Pradesh. The new discovery, which was published in the journal Zootaxa, now takes the count of keelback snake species found in Arunachal Pradesh to seven. This study was funded by the Rufford Small Grants.

The researchers have named this new non-venomous species Hebius lacrima after the Latin word lacrima meaning ‘tear’, referring to the dark area under the snake’s eye which looks like a black tear,  interrupting the white stripe across its dark-brown coloured body. They have suggested that the common name of this snake should be Crying Keelback.

Jayaditya Purkayastha, a researcher from Help Earth, a Guwahati-based NGO, found a single specimen of this 48.7-centimetre-long snake in a rice field alongside a hill slope on the outskirts of the city of Basar. He then collaborated with herpetologist Patrick David from the French National Museum of Natural History. The researchers compared the external physical characteristics of the snake with 44 other snakes from this genus to confirm the new species.

The snake was found close to the hills where Jhum cultivation, a type of indigenous slash and burn cultivation, is practised. “This snake is active during the day and generally feeds on frogs, tadpoles, fishes and small lizards. Not much else is known about its behaviour except for its association with Jhum cultivation,” says Purkayastha.

Northeast India is part of two biodiversity hotspots—the Himalayas and the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot. The discovery of a new species of snake in this region highlights the need to carry out additional studies to understand more about the biodiversity that is found here.