After a gap of over a century, zoologists have found a new taxon of vine snake in Odisha, which is a slender rear-fanged snake with narrow heads, and pointed snouts.
The last described in 1906, the latest discovery took about 10 years of field and laboratory work to describe the snake. Belonging to the family Colubridae, it has three prominent genera –Oxybelis found in American continent, Thelotornis found in Africa and Ahaetull in India and Southeast Asia.
The one found in the eastern state has been as Ahaetulla laudankia or Laudankia vine snake. The local name for vine snakes in Odisha is Laudankia or Laudaka, as the snake resembles dried stems (‘danka’) of bottle gourd (‘lau’).
The taxonomy of Ahaetulla vine snake is not fully understood and there is no consensus on species characterization. The recent advancements in molecular technology are helping to study the species.
Going by an article published in DTE, the researchers while probing this species in 2009, initially thought that the brown coloured snake from Similipal Biosphere Reserve it may be haetullanasutaisabellinus, a sub-species of the common vine snake found in India. However, after studying another brown vine snake specimen (Ahaetullapulverulenta) 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. A 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 coloured 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.