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Scientists Discover New Species of Deadly Green Pit Viper in Honduras

First Posted: May 14, 2013 02:58 PM EDT

Deep within a cloud forest reserve in northern Honduras, a snake quietly slithers along the leafy branches where it makes its home. There, its striking green color blends in with the surrounding foliage. Yet this brilliant snake is far deadlier than it might look at first sight; it's a newly discovered species of green palm-pitviper, and has the potential to kill with a bite.

The new species is named Bothriechis guifarroi and was first discovered by scientists during two expeditions in 2010 aimed at studying the fauna of Texiguat Wildlife Refuge. This location is one of the most endemism-rich and diverse highland forests in Mesoamerica, supporting species such as the jaguar, the Central America tapir, howler and white-faced monkeys, sloths and a variety of amphibians, reptiles and plants.

The new species of snake actually looks very similar to another Honduran palm-pitviper. Yet genetic analysis eventually revealed that the closest relatives of this new species are found over 350 miles to the south in the mountains of Costa Rica. This meant that the researchers had indeed discovered a new and distinct species.

Although this pitviper was only recently discovered, though, it may already be in danger. The cloud forest is a habitat that's being seriously threatened by human activities. Because of this, the scientists who discovered the snake want to promote the snake as needing protection.

"The description of Bothriechis buifarroi has important implications for Central American biogeography as well as conservation," said lead author Josiah Townsend in a news release. "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."

The snake itself is detailed in a paper that was published in ZooKeys.

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