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New snake species found in Taiwan


The Pareas Atayal, April 10. (Photo courtesy of You Chung-wei)

The Pareas Atayal, April 10. (Photo courtesy of You Chung-wei)


Taiwanese researchers have made a rare discovery of a new endemic snake species in Taiwan with the help of modern science and named it after the indigenous tribe with which it shares its habitat.

Lin Si-min, a life sciences professor at National Taiwan Normal University who led the research team that made the discovery, said Friday it was the first time in 84 years that a new snake species had been found in Taiwan.

His team has called the snake the Pareas Atayal because it belongs to the genus Pareas and lives in the mountain areas that are the traditional territory of the indigenous Atayal tribe, Lin said in presenting the team's findings.

The last discovery of a new snake species was made by a Japanese scholar in 1931 when Taiwan was under Japanese colonial rule, Lin said.

But thanks to improved scientific identification techniques, such as DNA analysis, his research team found some flaws in past scientific studies that led to underestimating Taiwan's biodiversity.

Lin's team established through DNA testing and extensive examination of different snakes that Pareas Atayal is one of three endemic slug snakes on the island, the other two being Pareas formosensis, commonly known as the Formosa slug snake, and Pareas komaii.

According to the Lin, the three snakes have several subtle differences.

The Formosa slug snake eats slugs while the Komaii and Atayal slug snakes prefer snails, Lin said.

They also are distinct from each other in terms of heredity traits and body shape and they do not crossbreed.

To be able to scoop out snails from their shells, local slug snakes have developed a different number of teeth on each side of their mouth and the Atayal slug snake has the most asymmetrical bite, with 20 teeth on the left side of the mouth and 11 on the right side, said You Chung-wei, a member of Lin's team.

The eyes of the Atayal and Komaii slug snakes are yellowish, while Formosa slug snakes have red eyes, he added.

The new finding has been published in the Zoological Scripta, a bimonthly peer-reviewed scientific journal on systematic zoology.


Lin Si-min  林思民

You Chung-wei  游崇瑋