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Beautiful new snake found in Paraguay

A research team led by the non-governmental organization Para la Tierra has recently discovered a striking new snake species belonging to the genus Phalotris, which comprises 15 semi-subterranean species distributed across central South America. The study was a collaboration with Guyra Paraguay and the Institute of Biological Investigations of Paraguay.

The species was named Phalotris shawnella in the honor of two children, Shawn Ariel Smith Fernández and Ella Bethany Atkinson, who were born in the same year as Para la Tierra. The children inspired the founders of this organization to start their initiative of conserving Paraguayan wildlife to help children inherit a better world. 

A specimen of P. Shawnella was spotted by chance in 2014 at Rancho Laguna Blanca by Jean-Paul Brouard, a researcher at Para la Tierra, while he was digging a hole. The snake is non-venomous and can be distinguished from other related species in the Phalotris genus by its red head, yellow collar, a black lateral band, and orange ventral scales with irregular black spots.

Until now, only three specimens of P.shawnella were discovered in the Cerrado forests of the department of San Pedro in east Paraguay. The extreme rarity of this species led scientists to list it as “endangered,” according to the conservation categories set by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The famous tourist destination Laguna Blanca – the only place where specimens of P.Shawnella were spotted – is now declared an “Important Area for the Conservation of Amphibians and Reptiles.”

“This demonstrates once again the need to protect the natural environment in this region of Paraguay,” wrote the study authors. “Laguna Blanca was designated as a Nature Reserve for a period of five years, but currently has no protection at all. The preservation of this site should be considered a national priority for conservation.”

“Additional field surveys are urgently required to improve our understanding of the ecological requirements of [this species] so that effective conservation measures can be implemented,” they concluded.

A full description of the new snake species can be found in the journal Zoosystematics and Evolution.

Image Credit: Jean-Paul Brouard


By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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