Jayaditya Purkayastha, spotted a new species of ‘crying’ snake in the Lepa-Rada district of Arunachal Pradesh. Credit: File photo

Itanagar: In a discovery that brings much cheer to the otherwise ignored field of herpetology in the Northeast, a Guwahati-based zoologist, Jayaditya Purkayastha, spotted a new species of ‘crying’ snake in the Lepa-Rada district of Arunachal Pradesh.

Purkayastha had for long been studying this peculiarly named snake in the state of Arunachal, which draws its name from the mark below its eyes, that gives the illusion that it is crying.

The discovery of the crying keelback, whose zoological name is Hebius lacrima, has been published in the New Zealand-based scientific mega-journal in Zootaxa for animal taxonomy.

Purkayastha was shown a photograph of a snake with a mark just below its eyes in 2011, who was spotted in the outskirts of the Basar town in the Lepa-Rada district. It was only in 2017, that he started studying the snake.

The specimen that the zoologist obtained from a paddy field on a hill slope on the outskirts of Basar town was an adult male 48.7 cm long, which had to be then compared to 44 species of snakes worldwide under the Hebius, a genus of snakes in the family.

Since Purkayastha had data pertaining to only 20 species of this genus, he collaborated with Patrick David of the Paris-based National Museum of Natural History who had data on another 22.

Purkayastha, who is the director of a Guwahati-based NGO, Help Earth, has been working in this field since 2006, and has been instrumental in the discovery of many new species of amphibians and reptiles.

The crying keelback can be differentiated from all other species of the Hebius genus by the distinctive broad, white, interrupted stripe along its body; three rows of irregular dark blotches (not vertically aligned) on each side; six cream, elongated spots on its anterior part and a smooth dorsal scale row.

The non-venomous snake prefers to live near streams along paddy fields, and feeds on small fish, tadpole, frogs and geckos.

There are about 3,709 species of snakes globally, and the northeast is home to some 110 species, with Arunachal Pradesh accounting for 55 of them.

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