June 5, 2023
New Venomous Snakes Discovered in Colombia: Taxonomic Classification Facilitates Snakebite Medical Assistance

New Venomous Snakes Discovered in Colombia: Taxonomic Classification Facilitates Snakebite Medical Assistance

The newly described puddle toad Bothrocophias tulitoi sp. November Contributor: Juan Pablo Hurtado-Gómez

Together with a South American team, Senckenberg scientist Juan Pablo Hurtado-Gómez described two new toad-headed pitvipers. To date, almost nothing is known about these poisonous snakes, which are native to Colombia. The descriptions of the new species were made possible by a collection from the National Institute of Health in Colombia aimed at improving the treatment of snakebites. The study, published in the journal Vertebrate Zoologydescribes the benefits of classification for medical care, among other things.

Bothrocophias live in isolated and inaccessible areas of South American rainforests such as the Choco rainforest in Ecuador, the western lowlands of the Amazon rainforest, the Pacific highlands and the eastern slope of the Andes. “These venomous snakes are among the most enigmatic and least known vipers of South America,” explains Juan Pablo Hurtado-Gómez, the last author of the study and a Ph.D. student at the Senckenberg Natural History Collections in Dresden.

“The lack of Bothrocophias material in scientific collections, as well as the tendency to confuse species of this genus with the more common and widespread members of the American pit vipers (Bothrops), have greatly complicated the taxonomic evaluation of this group.”

Nevertheless, Hurtado-Gómez—together with his Colombian colleagues—managed to identify two new species in the genus Bothrocophias. The snakes are native to the highlands of the Colombian Andes and were previously confused with the species Bothrocophias microphthalmus. However, based on morphological and genetic analyses, the team has now determined that they represent two previously unknown species: Bothrocophias myrringae sp. nov., and Bothrocophias tulitoi sp. November

“The new species differ in a number of external features, such as the arrangement and number of their scales or the color pattern of the body and tail,” adds the Colombian scientist, who works in Dresden.

New Venomous Snakes Discovered in Colombia: Taxonomic Classification Facilitates Snakebite Medical Assistance

Snakes from the genus Bothrocophias, such as the newly discovered Bothrocophias myrringae sp. November, they live in isolated, almost inaccessible tropical forests in South America. Contributor: Juan Pablo Hurtado-Gómez

The two new species were named in honor of Tulio Angarita and Myriam Sierra, both of whom were instrumental in developing a modern educational model that is now used in all schools in Colombia. They are also the parents of the study’s first author, Teddy Angarita Sierra.

The discovery was made possible by the National Institute of Health in Colombia (Instituto Nacional de Salud, INS), which has made a great effort over the past decade to assemble collections of venomous snakes, including the recently studied Bothrocophias material. The aim of the initiative is to develop antivenoms to treat severe snakebite poisoning.

All species of the genus Bothrocophias studied by Hurtado-Gómez and his team are poisonous. The limited data on the effects of the venom in humans range from mild manifestations of short-term pain and mild swelling to severe envenomations and isolated deaths.

Reptile expert Senckenberg, Prof. Dr. Uwe Fritz, explains, “The clarification of the classification of toad pits has important consequences for the treatment of venomous snakebites in the Andean countries. Unfortunately, such accidents are sometimes fatal. The first step in the effective treatment of snakebites is accurately identify the snake that caused the envenomation. This facilitates the subsequent preparation and administration of the appropriate antiserum, i.e. the antivenom.

“Knowledge of the biology and habitat of a particular species also reduces the risk of being bitten in the first place. The study’s new taxonomic findings thus contribute significantly to the World Health Organization’s goal of reducing the number of snakebites.”

More information:
Teddy Angarita-Sierra et al, Hidden in the heights: Two new species of the enigmatic pitvipers of the genus Bothrocophias, Vertebrate Zoology (2022). DOI: 10.3897/vz.72.e87313

Courtesy of the Senckenberg Research Institute and the Natural History Museum

Reference: New venomous snakes discovered in Colombia: Taxonomic classification makes snakebite medical help easier (2022, November 7) retrieved November 7, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-11-venomous-snakes- colombia-taxonomic- classification.html

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