A Comenius University scientist working with an international team has discovered a new species of snake

Comenius University scientist Daniel Jablonski, who has been working alongside partners in Germany and Switzerland, has identified a new species of European snake. From 2013 the international research team undertook an analysis of over 1600 snakes. The research results confirmed that 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 given the name Natrix helvetica. The long-term evolutionary history of the new species was confirmed by genetics (phylogenetics and an expansive analysis of contact zones as well as the time of divergence) alongside already known morphological data.

17. 08. 2017 08.22 hod.
By: CU Public Relations Office

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 metre. It lives 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 phylogenesis. This can be quite surprising with species that have a similar area of occurrence, as has been shown in earlier studies on other vertebrates. And now, given that we are experiencing a crisis of biodiversity, with species dying out at a quicker rate than that which allows us to adequately study them, such findings are really important,” said Jablonski, who works at the Department of Zoology at the Faculty of Natural Sciences at Comenius University.

This discovery has increased the number of snakes and vertebrates in Europe with the addition of a new species. “Despite the fact that 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 scientists published a study on a new species of lizard (Podarcis ionicus) from the southwest Balkans, and in February there was another study published 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, is the rarest European snake species.

Studies on the discoveries which Daniel Jablonski has participated in have been published in the international academic journals Scientific Reports, Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, and Zootaxa.