A master’s degree student at India’s Guru Nanak Dev University (Amritsar) spent much of 2020 uploading photos to Instagram of reptiles and amphibians
A master’s degree student at India’s Guru Nanak Dev University (Amritsar) spent much of 2020 uploading photos to Instagram of reptiles and amphibians taken in his backyard during the country’s lockdowns. In doing so, one of his followers, Zeeshan A Mirza of the National Centre for Biological Sciences (Bengaluru) saw an interesting snake in his IG feed.
Zeeshan contacted the student, Virender K Bhardwaj about the snake, who uploaded the photo on June 5, 2020. Both suspected the snake to be a species new to science.
“I saw one of these images in his search feed and discussed the photo with Harshil. I then contacted Virender and inquired about the snake, which belonged to a group of snakes commonly called Kukri as they bear teeth that are curved like that of the Nepali dagger Kukri. The snake which Virender found was similar to the Common Kukri snake (Oligodon arnensis), however, it differed in several aspects,” Zeeshan told the India Times.
Virender located two snakes that were sufficient to start the identification process, but was delayed due to Covid restrictions. The labs were not functional and the lockdowns made visiting natural history museums impossible.
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When the labs opened, the researchers looked at the molecular DNA of the reptile and determined that it was different from the common kukri snake, and indeed a new species. The researchers published a paper on the snake, named Oligodon churahensis in the journal Evolutionary Systematics.
The snake was named after the Churah Valley of Himachal Pradesh in which it was first discovered. The snake, of the family Colubridae, is about 275mm snout to vent length and has black bands edged with yellow on brownish gray body. The suggested common name for the snake is the Churah Valley Kukri.
The complete paper, “A new species of snake of the genus Oligodon Fitzinger, 1826 (Reptilia, Serpentes) from the Western Himalayas,” can be read on the Evolutionary Systematics website.