New species of snakes found on Instagram

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Intrepid scientists have long roamed the jungles and traveled the hinterland to discover new species. Now they are braving the wilderness of social media. Or at least, that’s how a duo of Indian researchers, with the help of a curious university student, discovered Oligodon churahensis, or the Churah Valley Kukri, a species of snake previously hidden from the world.

Stuck at home during the 2020 COVID-19 closures, Indian graduate student Virendar K. Bhardwaj has started exploring the area around his backyard in Chamba and posting photographs of the creatures he has found on Instagram. The below photo of a striped snake, uploaded on June 5, 2020, was sent to Zeeshan A. Mirza, a researcher at the National Center for Biological Sciences in Bangalore. After discussing the photo with a colleague, Mirza contacted Bhardwaj for more information.

The snake initially looked like a Common Kukri, a non-venomous egg-eating snake that is often found in India. Closer examination, however, revealed several morphological differences. Bhardwaj captured two specimens for researchers at the end of June. Coronavirus lockdowns prevented researchers from studying snakes right away, but as soon as their lab reopened, DNA analysis and CT scans confirmed that the specimens in question belonged to a previously unknown species.

The three men published their discovery in the journal Evolutionary Systematics, naming their new snake Churah Valley Kukri (Oligodon churahensis) for the area in which it was found.

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According to the published article, the discovery of a new species in the Western Himalayas is not very surprising, given how poorly explored the region remains. If you’ve come to the right place, Mirza points out in an Eurekalert.org press release, some exciting discoveries could be right under your nose. “Lately people have been eager to travel to distant biodiversity hotspots to find new or rare species, but if you look in their own backyards they may end up finding a new species there. “

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