News species of cat snake found in Maharashtra, named after Uddhav Thackeray's family
The newly found snake species are arboreal, mostly seen close to the forest streams and are active during the night. This new species is non-venomous and is known to grow up to 890 mm
In yet another important discovery that highlights the protection of rich biodiversity of the Western Ghats, renowned Herpetologist Dr. Varad Giri along with Tejas Thackeray and the team have discovered a new species of snake from Maharashtra's Sahyadri Tiger Reserve after 125 years. The species, which has been named Boiga Thackeray sp. nov - Thackeray's cat snake has scales on its body that resembles that of the stripes found on the body of the Tiger.
According to the researchers working in the field of wildlife conservation, India has a rich and endemic diversity of flora and fauna and owing to its unique diversity and rich endemicity, the Western Ghats is one of the hotspots for biodiversity.
It may be noted that scientists from various institutes played a major role in the discovery. The first author of this study was Dr. Varad B. Giri who led the study in collaboration with Mr. Ashok Captain, renowned snake taxonomist from India; Dr. V. Deepak of Natural History Museum, London; Swapnil Pawar, a naturalist from Kolhapur; and Dr. Frank Tillack from Museum fur Naturkunde, Berlin, Germany, who is a renowned expert on this group. The paper was published on September 26, 2019, in the Journal of Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).
Talking to mid-day Dr. Varad Giri said, "Although this landscape is explored for higher vertebrates, there are many surprises still awaiting to be discovered from this landscape. In one of such efforts, a new species of a snake has been described from the Western Ghats region of Maharashtra, India." The new species that has been discovered is from a group of snakes commonly called cat snakes and belong to the genus Boiga.
Dr. Giri further added, "Although snakes belong to this genus are widely distributed in India, a few species are endemic to the Western Ghats. This new species, Thackeray's Cat Snake (Boiga Thackeray) is named after researcher Tejas Thackeray for his contributions towards the studies on freshwater crabs in India, especially northern Western Ghats and his strong and unconditional support towards the taxonomy of less charismatic species. Apart from this, he was equally instrumental in finding this species and provided crucial information on their natural history. The latest snake described from the Western Ghats in this genus was in 1894."
The new snake is arboreal, mostly seen close to the forest streams and is active during the night. This new species is non-venomous and is known to grow up to 890 mm (approximately 3.00 foot) in length. According to the researcher, this new species is also unique as it is known to feed on eggs of the frogs of Humayun'n Night Frog, Nyctibatrachus humayuni.
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"This behaviour was never reported in cat snakes from the Western Ghats before. Interestingly, this snake is also 'favours' only arboreal frogs, which is again a unique behaviour. This new species, which is presently only known from a few localities near Koyna in Satara district, Maharashtra but could be widely distributed," Giri said
Researchers are of opinion that this new discovery highlights the importance of the northern Western Ghats and further studies are warranted.
What Tejas Thackeray has to say?
While speaking to mid-day Tejas Thackeray said, "Boiga Thackeray sp. nov - Thackeray's cat snake, is a new species with Tiger like stripes on its body from the Sahyadri tiger reserve in Maharashtra. The first Boiga to be described from the western ghats in 125 years. I first stumbled upon this snake in 2016 while working on the freshwater crabs of the region and it appeared to be strikingly unique and distinct from all the known boiga species. Which is when I got in touch with Dr. Giri and set the ball rolling."
Known to feed exclusively on tree frogs and their eggs, an extremely specialised habitat dweller, it's found on trees overhanging the rain-fed streams in its misty montane rainforest habitat. This discovery highlights the importance of the Sahyadri Tiger Reserve and the plethora of biodiversity it hosts.
"This one was a long time coming and a lot of people have been involved who I need to express my gratitude towards Dr. Varad Giri, the man behind the description of this species and who felt I was worthy of the honour of having this species named after as the type collector of the species. The other authors including Frank Tillack. Ashok Captain, Deepak Veerappan and Swapnil Pawar who all have contributed and helped to complete this jigsaw. Former PCCF Shree Bhagwan, Former Koyna DFO Panditrao, former Koyna ACF Puranik, DFO Saste, Santosh Chalke and Vaibhav Patil, who ensured complete co-operation from the forest department. Shankar Desai (Fondly called Mama), who resides on the border of the Sahyadri Tiger Reserve has been a strong supporter of our fieldwork and research in Koyna for many years," added Thackeray.
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