Researchers discover new venomous snake

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Not a lot of people would be thrilled to find a snake, but if you’re University of Central Florida professor Christopher Parkinson, “It’s fantastic!  I mean, we went out and had a beer!”

Parkinson is an expert in venomous snakes.   He and his colleagues recently discovered a type of snake  that wasn’t previously identified by scientists called the Talamancan Palm-Pitviper. 

"It took about 15 years to get enough tissue samples because of the rarity of the new species to be able to confirm from a genetic perspective that it is a new species,” Parkinson said.

He collected the first one when he was a graduate student in 2001.  At the time, he thought the snake was a Black-Speckled Palm-Pitviper.  Side by side, the two species appear identical.

But when Parkinson and his colleagues began studying the genetics of palm-pitvipers they noticed some distinctions.   That led them to compare the physical features of the snakes.

Eventually they discovered distinct differences in the scale patterns around the eyes and along the tails of the animals. 

After 15 years of research, Parkinson’s team was confident they had could describe a new species.  Their findings are published this month in the academic journal Zootaxa.

“New species are often rare.  They can be highly endangered,” Parkinson said.                 

Talamancan Palm-Pitvipers are small to medium-sized venomous snakes found in the mountains of Costa Rica. 

Scientist believe their habitat is a 100 kilometer area north of the Talamancan Cordillera. 

It’s land that’s being deforested.   Parkinson said discovering the snake highlights the importance of conservation initiatives. 

"We want to conserve that land because we don' t know everything that's there and for venomous snakes there's actually potentially a medical benefit because new drugs have been found or some new drugs have been found from venom."