Researchers from Mumbai and three others from Gujarat have confirmed the discovery of a new snake species. This is one of the rarest of moments in the recent reptile history of India.
The new snake genus, Wallaceophis is named after Alfred Russel Wallace for his pioneering work on biogeography, and for co-discovering the theory of natural selection. The species has been named gujaratensis.
Mumbaikar researchers Zeeshan A. Mirza and Rajesh Sanap, along with three wildlife enthusiasts from Gujarat; Raju Vyas; Harshil Patel and Jaydeep Maheta were instrumental in the discovery.
Mr. Mirza, a herpetologist from National Centre for Biological Science, Bangalore, and the lead author of the study, came across an image of this snake in a paper published by Mr. Vyas back in 2007.
Seven years later, Harshil Patel, a researcher from Gujarat studying reptiles and amphibians of southern Gujarat, informed that the snake has been found by snake rescuer Jaydeep Maheta.
Rajesh Sanap, a research associate with the National Centre for Biological Sciences, aided with the lab work. While Mr. Patel compared specimens from the collection of the Bombay Natural History Society, Mr. Mirza studied the snake with literature available.
In the meantime, Mr. Vyas collected data on 12 individuals of the same species from several locations in Gujarat.
Based on scalation, tooth number, bone morphology and DNA, the snake was identified as belonging to a group of colubrid snakes that include racers, royal snakes and whip snakes.
A paper jointly written by us was submitted last year July to Plos One , which finally got accepted later this January.
Colubrid snakes (Family Colubridae) are represented across the world with more than 1,800 species, and it is likely this number will grow with advanced techniques in species delimitation.
Wallaceophis gujaratensis has until now been found in seven locations in Gujarat.