April 1, 2023 12:57 am

Positioned in the Chocó-Darién jungles of eastern Panama and western Colombia, the DiCaprio’s snail-consuming snake (Sibon irmelindicaprioae) is the rarest of these newly discovered snake species. (Image credit: Alejandro Arteaga)

Slithering amongst shrubs in the foothill forests of Panama, there is a snake the colour of burnt embers, with round eyes like glowing coals. The snake, quickly to be named DiCaprio’s snail-consuming snake (Sibon irmelindicaprioae), is 1 of 5 newfound species living in the jungles of Central and South America. In a new study, researchers described the new species and shed light on how gold and copper mining operations in the area could threaten other beautiful snakes.

“These new species of snake are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of new species discoveries in this area,” lead author Alejandro Arteaga (opens in new tab), president and analysis director at the Khamai Foundation, a conservation-focused nongovernmental organization, mentioned in a statement (opens in new tab). “But if illegal mining continues at this price, there could not be an chance to make any future discoveries.”

S. irmelindicaprioae derives its name from actor and conservationist Leonardo DiCaprio, who asked that the red-eyed snake be named for his mother, Irmelin Indenbirken. DiCaprio’s eponymous snake is about 15 inches (38 centimeters) extended, and spends its evenings on palm fronds ten feet (three meters) above the ground, foraging for snails and slugs. Docile to a fault, the snake defends itself not by biting but by coiling protectively about its head and emitting a foul odor.

The other 4 newfound species described in the study, published Jan. 25 in the journal ZooKeys (opens in new tab), are the canopy snail-consuming snake (Sibon canopy), Marley’s snail-consuming snake (Sibon marleyae), Vieira’s snail-consuming snake (Sibon vieirai), and Welborn’s snail-consuming snake (Dipsas welborni).

Image 1 of four

Canopy snail-eating snake (Sibon canopy).  This snake has a beautiful dark red, yellow, black and white pattern in various triangular shapes. It also has large, bright red eyes.This is the canopy snail-consuming snake (Sibon canopy) named in honor of the Canopy Loved ones technique of reserves. It is 1 of the new species of snake found in the jungles of Central and South America. (Image credit: Alejandro Arteaga)Marley's snail-eating snake (Sibon marleyae). This snake has an alternating striped cream and dark brown underbelly and alternating stripes of yellow, red and dark brown on top. It also has a red and black speckled head with a set of large red eyes.Marley’s snail-consuming snake (Sibon marleyae) was found in the most humid and pristine Chocó rainforests of Ecuador and Colombia. This snake is named about the daughter of conservationist Brian Sheth. (Image credit: Eric Osterman)Vieira's snail-eating snake (Sibon vieirai). This snake has a largely dark brown body coloring, with the occasional fleck of white, black and yellow. It has large dark eyes.The Vieira’s snail-consuming snake (Sibon vieirai) coloring is a lot darker than the other individuals. (Image credit: Pearl Ee)Welborn's snail-eating snake (Dipsas welborni). This snake has a main reddish-brown coloring, with the occasional white stripe. It also has large round tan eyes.The Welborn’s snail-consuming snake (Dipsas welborni) is the namesake of David Welborn, former member of the board of foundation Nature and Culture International. (Image credit: Alejandro Arteaga)

To determine the new species, Arteaga and colleagues constructed an evolutionary tree of Dipsadinae — a huge and diverse subfamily of arboreal, terrestrial and aquatic snakes discovered in the Americas — following analyzing 343 sequences of snake DNA. The scientists determined that 5 species had been sufficiently distinct from their closest relatives, in each look and genetics, to qualify as new species. DiCaprio’s snake, for instance, does not quickly appear a lot diverse from Siphonops annulatus, a fellow Dipsadine. But in addition to genetic variations, the two species have distinct coloring patterns along their backs and heads, amongst other telltale indicators that they are not really the exact same.

Regrettably, most of these new snail-consuming species face substantial challenges the authors assume that DiCaprio’s snake currently fits International Union for Conservation of Nature criteria for “close to-threatened,” as gold and copper mining operations are ravaging the rainforests the snakes contact residence. All 5 snake species are arboreal, which implies they can’t survive in deforested regions, and all rely on a steady diet regime of slugs and snails that are in decline due to mining-associated pollution in streams and rivers, according to the statement.

Illegal gold mining activities taking location in Napo province, Ecuador are a threat to tree-dwelling snakes. (Image credit: Ivan Castaneira)

In Ecuador and Colombia, the challenge is largely illegal open-pit gold mines (opens in new tab), which sprung up not too long ago in response to a regional gold rush that has led to violence against park rangers and conservationists who stand in the way of deforestation. “When I very first explored the rainforests of Nangaritza River in 2014, I bear in mind pondering the location was an undiscovered and unspoiled paradise,” Arteaga mentioned. “In reality, the location is named Nuevo Paraíso [New Paradise] in Spanish, but it is a paradise no much more. Hundreds of illegal gold miners applying backhoe loaders have now taken possession of the river margins, which are now destroyed and turned into rubble.”

In Panama, exactly where DiCaprio’s snake lives, the difficulty is legal copper mining. 

“Each legal and illegal open-pit mines are uninhabitable for the snail-consuming snakes,” Arteaga mentioned, “but the legal mines could be the lesser of two evils. At the quite least they respect the limit of nearby protected regions, answer to a greater authority, and are presumably unlikely to enact violence on park rangers, researchers, and conservationists.”

Leave a Reply