A team of researchers from the Centre for Ecological Sciences of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) recently discovered five new species of vine snakes during their study in various parts of peninsular India. The team carried out field visits across India to collect morphological data, tissue samples and specimens to understand the patterns of distribution and diversification of vine snakes.
The team discovered that the common green vine snake (Ahaetulla nasuta) in India was a complex of several species. While four distinct small-bodied and short-nosed species were found in the rainforests of the Western Ghats, another morphologically distinct and much larger species was found across the lowlands and drier parts of peninsular India.
The newly discovered species from the Western Ghats include the Northern Western Ghats vine snake (Ahaetulla borealis), Farnsworth’s vine snake (Ahaetulla farnsworthi), Malabar vine snake (Ahaetulla malabarica) and Wall’s vine snake (Ahaetulla isabellina) in the Western Ghats rainforests alone.
“These species were superficially similar in their morphology but separated by geographic (or ecological) barriers. Another morphologically distinct and much larger species, the long-nosed vine snake (Ahaetulla oxyrhyncha), was distributed in the lowlands and drier parts of peninsular India,” researchers explained.
“Our earlier discovery of another deeply divergent vine snake Proahaetulla antiqua suggests that the entire lineage of vine snakes (Ahaetulla) evolved around 26 million years ago during the mid-Oligocene from its sister group Proahaetulla,” he said. The study was carried out in collaboration with researchers S R Ganesh from the Chennai Snake Park, Saunak Pal from the Bombay Natural History Society, and Princia D’souza from IISc.