American biologists have discovered a new species of burrowing snakes

American biologists have discovered a new species of burrowing snakes
American biologists have discovered a new species of burrowing snakes

In the Philippine Islands, they found miniature snakes leading an underground lifestyle and crawling out to the surface only after rain.

The extensive family of reptiles Lamprophiidae - distant cousins ​​of the already-shaped - has more than 300 species inhabiting the space from Southern Europe and Africa to Central and Southeast Asia. And recently, another species has appeared in it, discovered by scientists in the Philippines. It is hardly surprising that these snakes have gone unnoticed until now. Firstly, these are the smallest - about 17 centimeters - representatives of the entire family. Secondly, they spend most of their time underground and appear on the surface only after heavy rains.

A description of the new Levitonius mirus "Varai burrowing snakes" is presented in an article published in the serpentology journal Copeia by the team of the University of Kansas professor Rafe Brown. Scientists named them after the local Austronesian people. Apparently, various soil invertebrates, but above all earthworms, serve as food for Varai snakes.

Spine and skull bones of Levitonius mirus / © Weinell et al., 2020

In addition, they are distinguished by a very small number of vertebrae - only 144. For comparison, in some other snakes their number can reach 450. Apparently, this feature was a side effect of the miniaturization of the body and adaptation to the underground lifestyle. Computed tomography showed that the head of the Varai burrowing snakes also adapted: the scales on it became smaller, and the bones of the skull were thicker and stronger, the size of the eyes and nostrils decreased.

The authors note that the Philippines is one of the richest regions in the world in terms of reptile diversity. On these islands there are about 112 species of snakes, representatives of 41 families. Some of them are endemic to the Philippines, not found anywhere else, including the Cyclocoridae superfamily, to which the new burrowing snakes have been attributed. According to scientists, the find once again shows that our knowledge about local reptiles is far from complete. At the same time, they continue to die due to the ongoing destruction of natural habitats.

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