New Venomous Viper Discovered in Jiuzhaigou National Nature Reserve, China

Jiuzhaigou National Nature Reserve, a World Heritage Site, lies in the transition zone between the eastern edge of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and the Sichuan Basin in Sichuan Province, China, and occupies an area of ​​651 km2. The reserve is covered with well-preserved original forests and numerous alpine lakes. Beautiful and picturesque, it is home to some rare animals, such as the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) and Golden Snub-nosed Monkey (Rhinopithecus roxellana).

Herpetological diversity, unlike mammals, is relatively low in the region due to the harsh alpine environment. To learn more and study the post-earthquake ecological system in the region, a group of researchers conducted a series of surveys in Jiuzhaigou National Nature Reserve. During their herpetological surveys, they collected some specimens of Gloydius, a genus of poisonous pit vipers endemic to Asia, from the Zharu Valley.

After carrying out morphological and phylogenetic analyses, the scientists discovered that these specimens actually belonged to a species yet to be described.

“The new species is morphologically similar and phylogenetically closely related to G.wildanother recently described species from Heishui, Aba, Sichuan, but differing from them in having larger eyes (related to the head) and a continuous regular brown band on each dorsolateral side of the body,” explained the corresponding author, Dr. Jingsong Shi.

“So we named it after its unique color pattern: Gloydius lateralis.”

The newly described snake feeds on small mammals, such as mice, and “is active on sunny days by the side of the road in a hot, dry valley,” the researchers write in their study, which was published in the scientific journal in free access. Zoo Keys.

“The discovery of G. lateral provides new insights into the diversity and distribution patterns of Asian vipers,” they write, suggesting that the formation of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau may be one of the key factors in the geographic isolation of alpine vipers in south- western China.

Jiuzhaigou National Nature Reserve, where G. lateral was found, receives millions of tourists every year. “The only known habitat of the new species is the Zharu Valley, and it is currently under tourist development,” the researchers point out. “Thus, warning signs are always needed to remind visitors to beware of the poisonous viper, because this species and another species of viper, Protobothrops jerdonii, are often found in grass or bushes on both sides of roads.”

Snakes’ thermoregulatory needs make them more prone to collisions with vehicles, which is why the research team stresses the need to remind drivers to slow down in order to avoid road accidents.

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