A snake species has been discovered in Madagascar. Aptly called “ghost snake” thanks to its pale color, the reptile’s name comes from the local Malagasy term “lolo,” meaning ghost.
In a new study, researchers claimed that the ghost snake belongs to a larger group of snakes known as Madagascarophis, which are cat-eyed, nocturnal and distinguished by their vertical pupils.
Researchers at the American Museum of Natural History, the Université de Mahajanga in Madagascar and LSU Museum of Natural Science published their research work on the ghost snake in the scientific journal Copeia.
“None of the other snakes in Madagascarophis are as pale and none of them have this distinct pattern,” said the lead author of the paper, Sara Ruane, who is a post-doctoral fellow at the LSU Museum of Natural Science.
Ruane asserted that the discovery of the new snake species, now known as Madagascarophis lolo, has been an exciting endeavor because there are many cat-eyed snakes in the island but this one stood out as an entirely new species and hitherto remained unknown because of poor exploration of the region.
The researchers came across the ghost snake on pale gray limestone Tsingy rocks in the Ankarana National Park in northern Madagascar. Tsingy rock formations are the high point of Ankarana.
The rocks are sharp and hard to walk on, yet the researchers traced the ghost snake’s closest kin to be Madagascarophis fuchsi, discovered 100 kilometers north of Ankarana, a few years ago. They said the common factor binding the duo is that they both found them in rocky and isolated areas.
More Research On Ghost Snake In The U.S.
The researchers are now back in the U.S. after discovering the new ghost snake species and are planning in-depth genetic and morphological analyses of the reptile.
In the preliminary studies, the focus is on physical characteristics of the snake with attention on scales spread on the belly, back, and those near the eyes and lips.
Ruane has taken the ghost snake’s DNA from the tissue samples and will compare it with the Madagascarophis fuchsi.
She used three genetic markers found in existing Madagascarophis species to compare with the new one. With the help of her colleagues, she also mapped out the genetic family tree of the Madagascarophis and found that there are five species all in all.
“All of the analyses we did support that this is a distinct species despite the fact that we only have this one individual,” Ruane said.