Scientists Discover New Non-Venomous Snake Species in Paraguay

by johnsmith

A team of researchers in Paraguay have described a beautiful new species of the snake genus Phalotris from the Paraguayan department of San Pedro.

Juvenile topotype specimen of Phalotris shawnella, kept in captivity and which later escaped. Image credit: Jean-Paul Brouard.

Juvenile topotype specimen of Phalotris shawnella, kept in captivity and which later escaped. Image credit: Jean-Paul Brouard.

Phalotris is a group of small to medium-sized, semi-fossorial snakes in the family Colubridae.

First described in 1862, these snakes are noted for their striking coloration with red, black, and yellow patterns.

They are distributed largely in open areas of Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina.

Phalotris is poorly represented in museum collections, but 15 species are currently recognized separated into three species groups: the tricolor group of five species, the bilineatus group with four species, and the nasutus group which includes six species.

The newly-described species, Phalotris shawnella, belongs to the nasutus group.

“We came across an individual of the new species by chance while digging a hole at Rancho Laguna Blanca in 2014,” said co-author Jean-Paul Brouard, an expert with the Paraguayan NGO Para La Tierra.

Phalotris shawnella is particularly attractive and can be distinguished from other related species by its red head, a yellow collar, a black lateral band, and orange ventral scales with irregular black spots.

The species is endemic to the Cerrado forests in the San Pedro department, northeastern Paraguay.

“The two known localities for Phalotris shawnella — Laguna Blanca and Colonia Volendam — are separated by just 90.5 km, indicating an extremely restricted global range within a single Paraguayan department,” the scientists said.

“Given that this is potentially a forest species and that the area in which it is known to occur is an agricultural matrix undergoing constant alteration, we suggest that this Paraguayan endemic snake is in need of urgent conservation action.”

“A designation of Endangered fits the available data, this being a species with an estimated occurrence of less than 5,000 km2 and with a severely fragmented range that is known to exist at less than 5 localities and with a continuing decline inferred from the extent and quality of the habitat.”

“Rancho Laguna Blanca, where the holotype was collected, was formerly officially protected (for a period of five years) as a Reserva Natural (Natural Reserve) and given its high herpetological diversity it was recognized as the first Paraguayan Important Area for the Conservation of Amphibians and Reptiles.”

The discovery of Phalotris shawnella was reported in a paper in the journal Zoosystematics and Evolution.


P. Smith et al. 2022. A new species of Phalotris (Serpentes, Colubridae, Elapomorphini) from Paraguay. Zoosystematics and Evolution 98 (1): 77-85; doi: 10.3897/zse.98.61064

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