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New pit viper discovered in Jiuzhaigou National Nature Reserve, China

Toxic!  New pit viper discovered in Jiuzhaigou National Nature Reserve, China

Gloydius lateralis holotype. Credit: Sheng-chao Shi

Jiuzhaigou National Nature Reserve, a World Heritage Site, is located in the transition zone from the eastern edge of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau to the Sichuan Basin in Sichuan Province, China, and covers an area of ​​651 km2.2. The reserve is covered with well-preserved original forests and numerous mountain lakes. Beautiful and picturesque, it is home to some rare animals such as the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) and the golden snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus roxellana).

Unlike mammals, herpetological diversity is relatively low in the area due to the harsh mountain environment. To learn more about it and to examine the ecological system in the region after the earthquake, a group of researchers conducted a series of surveys at the Jiuzhaigou National Nature Reserve. During their herpetological research, they collected some specimens of Gloydius, a genus of venomous pit vipers endemic to Asia, from the Zharu Valley.

After conducting morphological and phylogenetic analyses, the scientists discovered that these specimens actually belonged to a species yet to be described.

“The new species is morphologically similar and phylogenetically closely related to G. swild, another recently described species from Heishui, Aba, Sichuan, but differs from it in larger eyes (related to the head) and a continuous regular brown stripe on each dorsolateral side of the body,” explained the corresponding author, Dr. Jingsong Shi.

“So we named it after its unique color pattern: Gloydius lateralis.”

The newly described snake feeds on small mammals, such as mice, and “is active on sunny days by the roadside in a hot, dry valley,” the researchers write in their study, which was published in ZooKeys.

“The discovery of G. lateralis offers new insights into the diversity and distribution patterns of Asian pit vipers,” they write, suggesting that the formation of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau could be one of the key factors for the geographic isolation of the alpine pit vipers in southwestern China.

Jiuzhaigou National Nature Reserve, where G. lateralis was found, receives millions of tourists every year. “The only known habitat of the new species is the Zharu Valley, and it is now under tourist development,” the researchers point out. “So warning signs are still needed to remind visitors to watch out for the venomous pit viper, as it and another pit viper species, Protobothrops jerdonii, are commonly found in grass or shrubbery on both sides of roads.”

The need for thermoregulation of hoses makes them more susceptible to collisions with vehicles. Therefore, the research team emphasizes the need to remind drivers to slow down to avoid road deaths.

Two new pit vipers discovered from Qinghai-Tibet Plateau

More information:
Exploring cryptic biodiversity in a World Heritage Site: a new pitviper (Squamata, Viperidae, Crotalinae) from Jiuzhaigou, Aba, Sichuan, China, ZooKeys (2022). DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.1114.79709

Jing-Song Shi et al, Molecular phylogenetic analysis of the genus Gloydius (Squamata, Viperidae, Crotalinae), describing two new alpine species from Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, China, ZooKeys (2021). DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.1061.70420

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Quote: New pit viper discovered in Jiuzhaigou National Nature Reserve, China (2022, July 22) retrieved July 22, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-07-pit-viper-jiuzhaigou-national-nature.html

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