A striking new species of snake discovered in Paraguay – previously unknown to science

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Shawnella of Phalotris. Credit: Jean-Paul Brouard

A magnificent non-venomous snake, previously unknown to science, has been discovered in Paraguay and described by researchers from the Paraguayan NGO Para La Tierra in collaboration with Guyra Paraguay and the Instituto de Investigación Biológica del Paraguay. The new species of snake belongs to the genus Phalotris, which includes 15 semi-subterranean species distributed in central South America. This group of snakes is known for its striking coloration with red, black, and yellow patterns.

Jean-Paul Brouard, one of the researchers involved in the study, came across an individual of the new species while digging a hole in Rancho Laguna Blanca in 2014. Along with his colleagues Paul Smith and Pier Cacciali, he described the discovery in the open access scientific journal Zoosystematics and evolution. The authors named it Phalotris shawnella, in honor of two children – Shawn Ariel Smith Fernández and Ella Bethany Atkinson – born the same year as the Fundación Para La Tierra (2008). They inspired the founders of the NGO to work for the conservation of Paraguayan wildlife, in the hope that their children could inherit a better world.

Phalotris shawnella Snake 3

Shawnella of Phalotris. Credit: Jean-Paul Brouard

New Phalotris The snake is particularly attractive and can be distinguished from other related species of its genus by its red head associated with a yellow collar, a black lateral stripe and orange ventral scales with irregular black spots. Known only from three individuals, it is endemic to the Cerrado forests of the department of San Pedro in eastern Paraguay. Its known distribution consists of two locations with sandy soils in this department – Colonia Volendam and Laguna Blanca – 90 km (56 miles) apart.

Phalotris shawnella distribution map

A distribution map of Phalotris shawnella. Credit: Jean-Paul Brouard

The extreme rarity of this species led the authors to consider it as “endangered”, according to the conservation categories of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which means that it is in imminent danger. of extinction in the absence of measures for its protection. .

This species can only be found in the famous tourist destination of Laguna Blanca, an area declared an important area for the conservation of amphibians and reptiles.

“This demonstrates once again the need to protect the natural environment of this region of Paraguay”, comment the authors. “Laguna Blanca has been designated as a nature reserve for a period of 5 years, but currently has no protection. The preservation of this site should be considered a national conservation priority.

Reference: “A new species of Phalotris (Serpentes, Colubridae, Elapomorphini) from Paraguay” by Paul Smith, Jean-Paul Brouard and Pier Cacciali, March 7, 2022, Zoosystematics and evolution.
DOI: 10.3897/zse.98.61064

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