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Long and thin with a big head: new snake adds diversity to a bizarre group (photo)

Male lion in the Okavango Delta. © National Geographic Entertainment. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
A live Imantodes chocoensis. Its head is about the size of an American penny. Photo by: Omar Torres-Carvajal et al.

There’s no question that blunt-headed vine snakes are an odd lot: a thin body tapers into an even thinner neck which expands suddenly into a broad head with massive eyes. Until now only six species were recognized from this genus, known as Imantodes, but a new study in Zookeys describes a seventh species: Imantodes chocoensis from the Chocó Forests in northeastern Ecuador.

The new species is distinct due to its lack of a loreal scale—a large scale on its head that all other blunt-headed vine snakes possess. Interestingly, the new species closest relative, the Amazon Basin tree snake (Imantodes lentiferus), is actually a mountain chain away: it’s found on the other side of the Andes in the Amazon rainforest. All blunt-headed vine snakes are night hunters, using their big eyes to track down lizards and frogs.

“One possible explanation for the disjunct distribution between the new species and its closest relative is that the uplift of the Andes fragmented an ancestral population into two, each of which evolved into a different species, one in the Chocó region and the other in the Amazon,” explains lead author Omar Torres-Carvajal from Museo de Zoología QCAZ in a press release. The researchers believe the new species is also found in Colombia.

The Imantodes chocoensis is named after its forest home, translating into the “Chocoan blunt-headed vine snake.” Resting between the Pacific and the Andes, the Chocó Forest of Ecuador and Colombia is home to a stunning richness of biodiversity and many species found-no-where-else, but is under increasingly threat due to deforestation. In Ecuador over 90 percent of the Chocó ecosystem has already been lost. The researchers did not remark on whether they think the Chocoan blunt-headed vine snake is endangered.

Close up of Imantodes chocoensis. Its head is about the size of an American penny. Photo by: Omar Torres-Carvajal et al.
Close up of Imantodes chocoensis. Its head is about the size of an American penny. Photo by: Omar Torres-Carvajal et al.

CITATION: Torres-Carvajal O, Yánez-Muñoz MH, Quirola D, Smith EN, Almendáriz A (2012) A new species of blunt-headed vine snake (Colubridae, Imantodes) from the Chocó region of Ecuador. ZooKeys 244: 91. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.244.3950

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