Pune-based researcher part of team that discovered new species of Green Pit Viper

Prajakta Joshi
Thursday, 16 April 2020

“All of us being fans of the Harry Potter universe, we wanted to name a snake after Salazar Slytherin, and with this discovery, we got the opportunity to do so,” said Gaurang who is associated with Fergusson and Garware Colleges.

Pune: A new species of Green Pit Viper was discovered by a group of young researchers recently. The new species was found at Pakke Tiger Reserve, Arunachal Pradesh. The team has Pune-based researcher herpetologist Gaurang Gowande who’s pursuing PhD at the Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU).

The researchers who apparently were the fans of the popular Harry Potter fiction books named the new viper Trimeresurus Salazar after the character of Salazar Slytherin from the fictional universe Harry Potter book and film series.

“All of us being fans of the Harry Potter universe, we wanted to name a snake after Salazar Slytherin, and with this discovery, we got the opportunity to do so,” said Gaurang who is associated with Fergusson and Garware Colleges.

Besides Gowande, the team members are Zeeshan Mirza, Harshal Bhonsle, Pushkar Phansalkar, Mandar Sawant and Harshil Patel.

“Two specimens of the new species were found in a field that helped diagnose the new species,” stated the paper published by the researchers.

Distinguishing features
“Several features make this new species distinct from its closely related species. While the other species tend to have a white line along their face and body, but this species has a rusty red or orange lateral stripe along with the head and body. Comparison of DNA sequences and skull morphology of closely related species highlight the distinctness,” said one of the researchers Zeeshan Mirza, who is associated with the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru.

He also added that the newly discovered species is closely related to another one found in the mountain range from Uttarakhand to Nepal. But we can distinguish the new species found in Nepal was distribution. While the latter is found in locations of higher elevations, the former are found in comparatively low elevated areas,” Mirza said.

The paper was published in the international science journal Zoosystematics and Evolution in March.

Unexplored forests of Northeast
“While several wildlife hotspots around us like the Western Ghats in Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu are highly explored, the forests in the Northeastern states of India have remained relatively unexplored. After due planning and permissions, we planned the excursion to the Pakke,” Gowande said.

Mirza added, “We reached there by June end, and kept travelling in various parts of the forest till the first week of August. In fact, we found the two specimens, one male and one female, along the roads.”

Concerns of development
The researchers are worried that the proposed 49-km Seijosa-Bhalukpong road will cut through the habitat of the new species. 

“Snakes are usually acclimatised to one area only, and they move very slowly. If a wide road is built right through this forest, it will end up threatening the lives of not just the snakes, but also many other animals. We believe that at least tiger reserves must be spared from such anthropological pressures,” Mirza said.

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