Scientists from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences have discovered a new species of the pit viper genus Gloydius.
Gloydius is a genus of venomous, small-bodied snakes endemic to Asia.
They are distributed mainly in northern Asia, but extending into southern Europe in the case of Gloydius halys.
More than 20 members of the genus are known to science; they are quite common and have radiated into various habitats.
The newly-identified species, Gloydius lateralis, occurs in the Jiuzhaigou National Nature Reserve in Sichuan Province, China.
It feeds on small mammals, such as mice, and is active on sunny days by the roadside in a hot, dry valley.
“The Jiuzhaigou National Nature Reserve, a World Heritage Site, lies in the transition zone from the eastern edge of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau to the Sichuan Basin in Sichuan Province and occupies an area of 651 km2,” said Dr. Jingsong Shi from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and colleagues.
“The reserve is covered with well-preserved original forests, and numerous alpine lakes.”
“Beautiful and picturesque, it is home to some rare animals, such as the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) and the golden snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus roxellana).”
“The herpetological diversity, in contrast to the mammals, is relatively low in the area due to the harsh alpine environment,” they added.
“To find out more about it, and to investigate the post-earthquake ecological system in the region, we conducted a series of investigations in Jiuzhaigou National Nature Reserve.”
Gloydius lateralis is morphologically similar, and phylogenetically closely related to Gloydius swild, another recently described species from Heishui, Aba, Sichuan, but differs from it by having larger eyes and a continuous regular brown stripe on each dorsolateral side of the body.
“The discovery of Gloydius lateralis provides new insights into the diversity and the distribution patterns of Asian pit vipers,” the researchers said.
“The formation of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau might be one of the key factors to the geographical isolation of the alpine pit vipers in southwest China.”
Their paper was published in the journal ZooKeys.
M.-H. Zhang et al. 2022. Exploring cryptic biodiversity in a world heritage site: a new pitviper (Squamata, Viperidae, Crotalinae) from Jiuzhaigou, Aba, Sichuan, China. ZooKeys 1114: 59-76; doi: 10.3897/zookeys.1114.79709
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