Researchers discover a pale, ghost-like snake species in Madagascar.
Researchers from Louisiana State University and the American Museum of Natural History have found an unusual species of snake in Madagascar. The snake has a pale grayish ghost-like appearance and is unlike any other snake species found on Earth. Researchers have named it Lolo, which means ‘ghost’ in local language.
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Lolo belongs to the genus Madagascarophis which consists of snake species native to the island of Madagascar. They are commonly referred to as cat-eyed snakes due to their large eyes and vertical pupils. Most of these snake species were found in urban areas, but the new snake was discovered in Ankarana National Park in northern Madagascar inside the pale grey limestone Tsingy rocks.
The snake was originally discovered in early 2014 when researchers went on an expedition to Madagascar in search of snakes. Their aim was to collect DNA samples from the rarest snake species there and draw a family tree of Madagascar snakes. Madagascar harbors some of the most and unusual species of reptiles and amphibians in the world which are elusive to the region.
DNA analysis is one of the most powerful tools to determine relationship among individuals or species and to identify genetic differences between them.
After more than 8 hours of hiking in the national park, researchers spotted a pale colored snake on their path. When researchers conducted a genetic analysis of the snake and compared it with other species of snakes found in Madagascar, they found that this snake is the close relative of Madagascarophis fuchsia snake, which was also found in rocky area somewhere outside the Ankarana National Park. However, genetic analysis verifies that the ghost snake is an altogether new species never seen anywhere else before.
“None of the other snakes in Madagascarophis are as pale and none of them have this distinct pattern.” Lead researchers Sara Ruane from LSU Museum of Natural Science said.
Researchers have been able to study snake’s physical features and genetics so far. They do not know much about its diet, foraging behavior and other characteristics. Cat-eyed snakes, in general, feed on a variety of prey like frogs, lizards, birds, mammals, and even other snakes. Their venom is usually mild but strong enough to kill their prey.
Ruane says "...even though the cat-eyed snakes could be considered one of the most common groups of snakes in Madagascar, there are still new species we don't know about because a lot of regions are hard to get to and poorly explored."