Wood snake, last seen in 1878, rediscovered by scientists

The species is endemic to the Meghamalai forests and Periyar Tiger Reserve area

Updated - March 12, 2019 09:59 am IST

Published - March 12, 2019 08:27 am IST - MADURAI

The wood snake

The wood snake

A species of wood snake that wasn’t seen for 140 years has resurfaced in a survey conducted by scientists in the Meghamalai Wildlife Sanctuary. The species, endemic to the Meghamalai forests and the Periyar Tiger Reserve landscape, was recently rediscovered by R. Chaitanya, a herpetologist, and Varad Giri, director, Foundation for Biodiversity Conservation.

The findings of the surveys, conducted over two years (2014-2016), were published in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society last month. “The snake is a ‘point endemic’ (found only in Meghamalai). It was found in the same region that Colonel Beddome alluded to, and the morphological characters match with his specimen,” said Dr. Chaitanya, who found a female specimen. The snake he discovered was 235 mm long and uniformly dark brown.

Specimens deposited

The local population of wood snakes was last spotted and recorded by British military officer and naturalist Colonel Richard Henry Beddome in 1878, who went on to describe it as a new species, Xylophis indicus . The specimens he collected were deposited by the officer in the Natural History Museum, London, and labelled as being from “the dense heavy evergreen forests on the mountains at the south of the Cumbum valley, Madura.”

Mr. Giri said the rediscovery of the snake indicated that the quality of the habitat was good. “The documentation of the existence of this species will aid in both the management and conservation of biodiversity in this region,” he said. In their research paper, the scientists also mention their rediscovery of Xylophis indicus needs to be validated by both morphological and genetic data. While the morphological aspect has been done, the genetic data is pending. Meghamalai Wildlife Warden S. Kalanithi acknowledged that the process of capturing the specimen for genetic data would require several permits.

‘Reserve needed’

Honorary Wildlife Warden, Meghamalai Wildlife Sanctuary, C. R. Rajkumar said this discovery is a sign that the biodiversity in this area should be protected. “Meghamalai has a range of snakes, butterflies and ants, apart from the large mammals that we know of. Establishing a tiger reserve here will ensure that there is proper protection of this landscape,” he said, adding, “It will also help in the restoration of the Vaigai river.”

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