Maharashtra scientist discovers Mizo rain snake

Updated: May 11, 2019, 07:49 IST | Ranjeet Jadhav | Mumbai

Smithophis Atemporalis is aquatic in nature, and is usually seen during the monsoon, near streams or after spells of rain

Smithophis Atemporalis
Smithophis Atemporalis

Exploring the habitats of northeast India led Maharashtra-based ace researcher Dr Varad Giri and his team to the scientific discovery of a new species of snakes — Smithophis Atemporalis or the Mizo rain snake — which is being considered as a very important development in the field of wildlife and reptile research.

Speaking to mid-day, Dr Giri said, "I am very happy to share that due to our team's hard-work, a new species of snakes has been discovered in Mizoram. The new genus, Smithophis, is named after eminent British herpetologist, Malcom A Smith for his incredible contribution to the field of Indian herpetology."

Dr Varad Giri
Dr Varad Giri

Between 1931 and 1943, Smith published three books on taxonomy of reptiles of the Indian subcontinent as part of the 'Fauna of British India' series. These books are still considered to be the primary resource for anyone studying Indian reptiles.

"Earlier, Smithophis was considered to be a part of the genus Rhabdops, which was represented by two species geographically separated by a long distance. The Olive Forest snake Rhabdops Olivaceous is found only in the Western Ghats and the Bicolored Forest snake Rhabdops Bicolor has been traced to northeast India. However, the present study has found out that these species are not even closely related. Also, Smithophis and Rhabdops, which were considered to be a single genus of snakes from the northeast, are actually two different genuses," added Giri.

According to the researchers, as Rhabdops Olivaceous from the Western Ghats was scientifically described much before Rhabdops Bicolor, it remains in the genus Rhabdops. However, the two species from the northeast, which includes the new one Smithophis Atemporalis, have been assigned to the genus Smithophis.

The new species

Smithophis Atemporalis lacks temporal scales (specific enlarged scales in the temporal region of the head). This characteristic is extremely rare in snakes of this family. This snake is aquatic in nature and is commonly seen in human habitats and forests as well. In Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram, this snake is commonly seen during monsoon. Otherwise, it is usually spotted near streams or after spells of rain. Although, this is something new for science, locals have known this snake as ruahlawmrul for ages. The maximum size of the snake is 655 mm (approximately 2.5 feet) and it is believed to be non-venomous. Though it has been found to be present in a number of localities in Mizoram, it might have a wider distribution. This species feeds on lizards and frogs, and lays eggs too.

The team behind the discovery

This discovery was the result of a successful collaboration between scientists from leading Indian and international institutes. The first author of this study Dr. Varad B Giri collaborated with Dr. David Gower of the Natural History Museum, London; Dr. Abhijit Das of the Wildlife Institute of India; H T Lalremsanga of Mizoram University; Dr. Samuel Lalronunga of Pachunga University College, Aizawl; Ashok Captain, eminent snake taxonomist from Pune and Dr. V Deepak of the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, currently at the Natural History Museum, London. The paper was published on May 9 in the taxonomic journal Zootaxa.

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