What was once thought to be Naja melanoleuca is actually a new species, confirmed by DNA analysis.
A cobra snake that was once thought to be an introduced species on Sao Tomé Island in the Gulf of Guinea, is actually a new species, according to a research paper published by Zootaxa.
The cobra-preta, or "black snake" in Portuguese, was initially thought to be the forest cobra (Naja melanoleuca) found on mainland Africa.The forest cobra is black in coloration with a mottled white collar and is said to be the largest true cobra in the world, able to attain lengths of 3 meters.
The initial explanation for introducing the cobra onto Sao Tomé Island was to control the rat population. That notion was accepted by the local population as well as international conservation agencies. Researcher and herpetologist Luis Ceríaco of Villanova University in Pennsylvania, didn’t subscribe to the notion that the venomous snake was introduced, so he did a little digging. All the way back to 1540. He found a report detailing a visit to the island by a Portuguese explorer in 1506. In that report, the explorer described a black snake that was “so venomous that when it bites a man, his eyes will explode out of the head and he will die.”
Ceríaco decided to take a look at the cobra-preta more closely and found that it was larger than the forest cobra, and the scales were less white than that of the African snake. Genetic analysis was performed on the reptile and it was confirmed that cobra-preta, now named Naja peroescobari, is indeed a new species of cobra.
The snake, however was discovered as folks on Sao Tomé Island are becoming conservation-conscious, according to the New Scientist. The snake could have been slated for eradication on the island because it previously was thought to be an invasive species. It is already killed by the locals because it is venomous and are often eaten as a delicacy.
“I think it says a lot that the type specimen, which is considered the gold standard in taxonomic research, is a snake that was chopped in half by a local resident of São Tomé,” Rayna Bell of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, told the New Scientist. Bell has worked on São Tomé. “Clearing up the misconception that the cobra-preta doesn’t belong on São Tomé will be an important first step towards conserving these unique snakes.”
Hopefully the islanders on Sao Tomé will realize they have a native treasure living on their island and work to protect it.