SHILLONG, May 12 - A team of Indian scientists have discovered a �rain-loving� new snake species from the North-east, India�s biodiversity hotspot and has named it �Smithophis Atemporalis.�
The discovery is exciting because such a finding has been achieved probably after 150 years. �We have described not only a reptile species new to science, but the whole new genus perhaps after a gap of almost 150 years,� Dr Abhijit Das of Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun and the team leader of the scientists, said.
This new discovery highlights the vibrant yet largely unexplored covert biodiversity of the Northeast that is facing threats from extinction, the scientist said.
The snake species has been discovered from Mizoram and the specie is a �non-venomous strictly aquatic snake.� The maximum recorded size of the new species is 655 mm or about 2.5 feet.
According to the findings, Smithophis is �inoffensive in nature� and this species is found in various localities of Mizoram, but it may have a wider distribution. �This new species feeds on lizards and frogs, and lays eggs,� Das said.
Although, it is new scientific discovery, but locals have known about this snake for ages and it is locally referred to as �Ruahlawmrul,� a rain-loving snake. The activity of this new species increases during the rainy season.
Smithophis now contain two species namely Smithophis bicolor distributed in Khasi, Garo Hills of Meghalaya and the new species Smithophis Atemporalis is only known from Mizoram state.
Earlier, the discovered species was mistaken as a species belonging to genus �Rhabdops,� having distribution in Western Ghats and Northeast India, due to their morphological similarities.
�However, after detailed studies involving molecular taxonomy we could identify that northeastern population stands far away from South Indian cousins and the morphological similarities are just due to an evolutionary convergence,� the scientist said.
The new species is named due to absence of scale in the �temporal� region of its head which is considered as a unique character.
Das said the species was named �Smithophis� after eminent British herpetologist, Malcom Aurthur Smith for his contribution in the taxonomy of Indian reptiles in his authoritative �Fauna of British India� series.
The discovery was a result of more than six years of collaboration between scientists from leading Indian and international institutes, he informed.
The other team member involved in the discovery included Varad Giri, Deepak Veerappan and David Gower of the Natural History Museum, London, HT Lalremsanga of Mizoram University, Samuel Lalronunga of Pachunga University College, Aizawl and Ashok Captain, eminent snake taxonomist from Pune.