Health & Science

New species of dwarf boa snake discovered in Ecuador

A new species of snake has been found in the Ecuadoran Amazon rainforest. It has been named Tropidophis cacuangoae after Dolores Cacuango, an Ecuadorian feminist pioneer and human rights activist.

Dorsal view of the female dwarf snake Tropidophis cacuangoae discovered in Ecuador
Dorsal view of the female dwarf snake Tropidophis cacuangoae discovered in Ecuador | Danilo Medina

A team of researchers from Ecuador, Germany and Brazil discovered a new species of dwarf boa snake that they think is likely endemic to Ecuador. Published in the peer-reviewed European Journal of Taxonomy last December, the paper details characteristics of the tiny snake and compares it with other close specimens.

With a light brown color, it looks similar to boa constrictors. It is about 30 centimeters long with a head width of 7 millimeters only, and a body no wider than 3 millimeters. The snake is different from its congeners based on the combination of 23 different characteristics.

Lateral view of the male dwarf boa specimen
Lateral view of the male dwarf boa specimen. To show scale, the black bar on the bottom right corner is 1 cm

The snake has been named Tropidophis cacuangoae. Tropidophis are species of snake found only in Latin America from the Tropidophiidae, a family of snake most commonly known as dwarf boas. With the discovery, 34 species of Tropidophiidae, including 6 Tropidophis, have now been identified.

Cacuangoae is the latinization of Dolores Cacuango, an Ecuadorian pioneer of feminism and human rights activist for the Ecuadorian indigenous people in the early twentieth century. She for instance demanded the teaching of the native language Quechua and founded the first bilingual schools in Ecuador.

These dwarf snakes are considered as “relic of time” by the authors as pelvic bone remnants were found on the male specimen, a characteristic of primitive snakes and proof reptiles lost their legs millions of years ago.

Other specimens genetically close to the Tropidophis cacuangoae are located in the south of Ecuador and in Peru, as well as in southeast of Brazil in Atlantic rainforest. As such, authors note that there is growing evidence both forests, although now separated by thousands of kilometers, were historically connected.

The new species is known solely based on two verified specimens. Found at approximately 50 km apart, the team considers it makes the species likely endemic to Ecuador. A third specimen has not yet been identified as Tropidophis cacuangoae and could potentially represent another undescribed species.

Since they were found only in a small geographic range of primary rainforest, authors also think the species should become a candidate for a threatened species status, although further evaluation of its population should be necessary. “Discovery of this new species highlights an important need to accelerate research in remote areas where information gaps remain,” the paper emphasized.

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Head views of Tropidophis cacuangoae
Head views of Tropidophis cacuangoae. Credits: Mauricio Ortega-Andrade; Danilo Medina.

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