Zoologists Discovered a New Species of Reptiles

Bratislava, 4 December 2017: An international research team from Germany, Switzerland and Slovakia has identified a new species of Central European snake. Since 2013, they analyzed over 1600 snakes.

05. 12. 2017 16.22 hod.
By: CU Public Relations Office

The population of the species known as Natrix natrix, inhabiting areas of France, Italy, Switzerland, western Germany, Great Britain, and Switzerland, are in fact an independent species which has been previously given the name Natrix helvetica. The long-term evolutionary history of the new species was confirmed by genetic data (phylogenetics and an expansive analysis of contact zones as well as the time of divergence) alongside already known morphological data.

The Natrix helvetica species, which inhabits the area from the Rhine in Germany through to the Pyrennes (including the British Isles and the Italian Peninsula), has a different coloration: it has markedly black nuchal marks and on its back, it has two rows of small markings. It is a rather robust animal, measuring around one meter. It feeds on amphibians and fish.

The grass snake (Natrix natrix), as it was understood in the classical morphological understanding, is one of the most populous and commonly seen species of snake in Europe, with a relatively wide range of occurrence from North Africa to Central Asia. “It is therefore something of a paradox that until now we have known very little about its genetic variability and evolutionary history. And now, given that we are experiencing a crisis of biodiversity, with extinction at a quicker rate than that which allows us to adequately study them, such findings are really important,” said Daniel Jablonski from the Faculty of Natural Sciences at Comenius University, Slovakia.

This discovery has increased the number of living species of snakes and vertebrates in Europe. “Even though Europe is one of the most studied parts of the world, this is actually the third reptile which has been reclassified as a separate species this year,” said Jablonski. In January, his international team published a study on a new species of lizard (Podarcis ionicus) from the southwest Balkans, and in February, they published another study concerning a new endemic species of viper (Vipera graeca), which, thanks to its limited area of occurrence on mountain peaks in southern Albania and northern Greece, became the rarest European snake species.

Studies on the discoveries were published in the international academic journals Scientific Reports, Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, and Zootaxa.