‘Ghost snake’ species discovered

Washington : Scientists have discovered a ‘ghost snake’ – a new species of elusive, pale grey reptiles dwelling in Madagascar.

The researchers from the Louisiana State University (LSU) Museum of Natural Science, the American Museum of Natural History in the US and the Universite de Mahajunga in Madagascar studied the snake’s physical characteristics and genetics, which verified that it is a new species. They named it Madagascarophis lolo – which means ghost in Malagasy.

The ghost snake, discovered at the Ankarana National Park in Madagascar, is part of a common group of snakes called Madagascarophis, or cat-eyed snakes, named for their vertical pupils, which is often found among snakes that are active in the evening or night.

Many of the cat-eyed snakes are found in developed areas or degraded forests. However, the researchers found the ghost snake on pale grey limestone rocks.

“None of the other snakes in Madagascarophis are as pale and none of them have this distinct pattern,” said Sara Ruane, post-doctoral researcher at the LSU Museum of Natural Science.

The researchers found that the ghost snake’s next closest relative is a snake called Madagascarophis fuchsi, which was discovered at a site about 100 kilometres north of Ankarana years ago. Both were found in rocky, isolated areas.

“I think what’s exciting and important about this work is even though the cat-eyed snakes could be considered one of the most common groups of snakes in Madagascar, there are still new species we don’t know about because a lot of regions are hard to get to and poorly explored,” Ruane said.

Researchers conduct their fieldwork during the rainy season in Madagascar when snakes and their prey, such as frogs, lizards and even other snakes, are most active. The findings were published in the journal Copeia.     —PTI

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