May 14, 2013
New Pit Viper Species Found In Honduras
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
Scientists writing in the journal Zookeys say they have discovered a new species of green palm-pit viper located in northern Honduras.
The new snake species, Bothriechis guifarroi, was previously confused with other Honduran palm pit vipers, but a genetic analysis helped reveal it to be a new species.
Bothriechis guifarroi was discovered by scientists performing two expeditions in 2010 aimed at studying the fauna of Texiguat Wildlife Refuge. This area is considered to be one of the most endemism-rich and diverse highland forests in Mesoamerica. Bothriechis guifarroi represents the 15th endemic species occurring in the region.
The new snake species was named in honor of Mario Guifarro of Olancho, who was a former hunter and gold miner who became an outspoken conservationist when he saw the rainforest of eastern Honduras being destroyed and converted to cattle ranches. Guifarro was ambushed and murdered on September 15, 2007 while on a mission to delimit a biosphere reserve for the indigenous Tawahka.
"The description of Bothriechis guifarroi has important implications for Central American biogeography as well as conservation," said Dr. Josiah Townsend, Department of Biology, Indiana University of Pennsylvania and lead author of the study. "We recommend that B. guifarroi be immediately classified as Critically Endangered due to its limited known area of occurrence and the potential for anthropogenic damage to its habitat. We also consider that this species warrants immediate consideration for protection under CITES, given its striking appearance and high potential for exploitation in the pet trade."
Pit vipers are distinguished by their heat-sensing pit organ located between the eye and the nostril on either side of the head. A study into the evolution of pit viper venom was published in PLOS ONE in 2011. Researchers suggested pit vipers might be engaged in an arms race with opossums, which is a group of snake-eating American marsupials. The research found that predators factor into the rapid evolution of snake venom.
In 2012, another surprising find about pit vipers surfaced when scientists observed that females were able to give birth without mating. Scientists wrote about this phenomenon, known as facultative parthenogenesis, in the Royal Society Biology Letters. They found that between 2.5 and 5 percent of 59 litters of pit vipers in the study were produced from virgin females.