The new species- Trimeresurus mayaae is a cryptic species of green pit viper found in Northeast India based on specimens collected from Mizoram and Meghalaya.
“Cryptic species are very interesting in terms that they stay hidden in our plain sight for ages and are often misidentified as some other closely allied species,” Jayaditya Purkayastha, a herpetologist from Help Earth, Guwahati, who was a part of the team, told EastMojo.
He said in this case, the new species was relatively common in Meghalaya, Mizoram and was even recorded from Guwahati, but was referred to as either Pope’s pit viper (Trimeresurus popeiorum) or Gumprecht’s green pit viper (Trimeresurus gumprechti).
Jayaditya collaborated with Colonel Yashpal Singh Rathee of Umroi Military Station in Meghalaya.
The snake was for the first time seen at Umroi Military Station. Initially, the snake looked very similar to Pope’s pit viper but the colour of the eyes was different. A little more investigation found the species and Pope’s pit viper have very different hemepenis (the copulatory organ).
Results from morphological and molecular data analysis support the distinctness of the species from the other species and are described as a new one.
Zeeshan Mirza of the National Centre of Biological Sciences carried out an in-depth genetic analysis to get a better picture and the result supported the theory that the snake is a new species.
Later, the team collaborated with Prof. H.T. Lalremsanga of Dept. Of Zoology of Mizoram University, where he also recorded the same species for Mizoram. One specimen was found in Champhai District in Mizoram, while the one from Meghalaya was found in Umroi military cantonment.
The new species occurs throughout the Shillong Plateau and the adjoining Jaintia hills, Barail and Mizo hills.
The species was named Trimeresurus Mayaae or Maya’s Pit viper in honour of the late mother of Col. Yashpal Singh Rathee.
Purkayastha said the species is a venomous one and in this context, the finding is important as it has human health-related implications.
“In a country where around 1.2 million people have lost their lives in the last two decades owing to snake bites and many more have suffered the brunt of snakes often losing their limbs, a discovery of a new venomous snake means a lot in the context of public health. Venom is a complex protein, mostly typical to a species, and thus unravelling a new species will help in understanding its venom and its impact on human life and perhaps will help save lives,” Purkayastha said.
The study says Northeast India is rich in its reptile diversity, which still remains poorly studied. Several new species have been described in the recent past. “Many road widening and hydropower plant projects are some of the few anthropogenic pressures to the forest and species across northeast India with regards to their conservation,” it says.
Other team members who contributed to describing the new species are Lal Biakzuala and Lal Muansange of Dept. Of Zoology of Mizoram University and Siddharth Dalal of Umroi.
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