Scientists discover new species of shield-tail snake in Western Ghats’ Meghamalai-Munnar landscape

The new species is Uropeltis caudomaculata, named in reference to the yellow spot that it has on each side of the base of its tail, rather than a stripe as occurs in its closest known relative, Uropeltis pulneyensis

Updated - July 10, 2024 06:18 pm IST

Published - July 10, 2024 12:34 pm IST - CHENNAI

The new species of shield-tail snake discovered in the Western Ghats, Uropeltis caudomaculata

The new species of shield-tail snake discovered in the Western Ghats, Uropeltis caudomaculata | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Researchers have discovered a new species of a shield-tail snake in the Meghamalai-Munnar landscape of the Western Ghats.

The new species is Uropeltis caudomaculata, named in reference to the yellow spot that it has on each side of the base of its tail, rather than a stripe as occurs in many similar species, including its closest known relative, Uropeltis pulneyensis.

The snake was was originally classified as U. pulneyensis — a species named after and found in the Palani Hills — due to the similar features of both. However, researchers found substantial genetic and morphological differences upon testing specimens of Uropeltis caudomaculata in the lab.

The study was done by David J. Gower from the Natural History Museum, London, UK; Sandeep Das from the Centre for Research in Emerging Tropical Diseases, University of Calicut, Kerala; V. Deepak from the Natural History Museum, London, UK, and the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, Newcastle University; Jason D. Gerard, who was affiliated with the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun at the time of the study as well as Surya Narayanan from the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Karnataka.

According to a study published by the researchers in scientific journal Zootaxa, the new species is distinguished primarily by its increased number of ventral scales and its exclusive distribution along the eastern escarpment of the Western Ghats from Meghamalai to approximately 15 km east of Munnar, rather than the Palani Hills. 

Uropeltis caudomaculata is known to be found in only three localities: Meghamalai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu, Periyar Tiger Reserve and Yellapetty, Munnar in Kerala. 

Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Surya said even in a book compiled by the same team on snakes and lizards of the sky islands of the Western Ghats in 2022, the species was incorrectly named. “Shield-tail snakes are tricky to distinguish. On a hunch, we tested a couple and found difference in DNA nucleotide sequences [from U. pulneyensis],” he said.

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