In Sichuan Province, China, Jiuzhaigou National Nature Reserve, a World Heritage Site, covers a 651 km2 area and is located in the area that connects the eastern edge of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau to the Sichuan Basin.
The reserve is surrounded by numerous alpine lakes and indigenous woodlands that have been kept properly. It is scenic and lovely, and it is also the habitat of certain endangered species, such the Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) and the Golden Snub-nosed Monkey (Rhinopithecus roxellana).
Due to the hard alpine habitat, the herpetological diversity in the region is relatively low in comparison to that of the mammals. Researchers carried out a series of examinations in Jiuzhaigou National Nature Reserve to learn more about it and to look into the area’s post-earthquake biological system. During their herpetological surveys, they collected some specimens of Gloydius, a genus of venomous pit vipers endemic to Asia,from Zharu Valley.
The researchers conducted morphological and phylogenetic analysis and discovered that these specimens actually belonged to an unnamed species.
The only known habitat of the new species is Zharu Valley, and it is now under touristic development. Thus, warning signs are still needed to remind visitors to watch out for the venomous pit viper, since this and another pit viper species, Protobothrops jerdonii, are often found in grass or bushes on both sides of roads.The researchers
“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 by having 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.
“Thus, 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 the open-access scientific journal ZooKeys.
“The discovery of G. lateralis provides new insights into the diversity and the distribution patterns of Asian pit vipers,” they write, suggesting that the formation of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau might be one of the key factors to the geographical isolation of the alpine pit vipers in southwest 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 Zharu Valley, and it is now under touristic development,” the researchers point out. “Thus, warning signs are still needed to remind visitors to watch out for the venomous pit viper, since this and another pit viper species, Protobothrops jerdonii, are often found in grass or bushes on both sides of roads.”
The research team emphasizes the need to encourage drivers to slow down in order to prevent road deaths because snakes’ thermoregulation needs render them more vulnerable to car crashes.