Biologists from the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, Germany, have discovered a new species of snail-eater in the highlands of western Panama.
The new snake, called Sibon noalamina, is completely harmless for humans. The light and dark-ringed reptile at first sight resembles a well-known and widespread species of snail-eater. However, closer examination revealed the non-venomous snake to represent a hitherto unknown species.
„The three individuals that we caught during several expeditions between 2008 and 2010 in the montane rainforests of western Panama differ markedly from all known species of snakes, especially in scalation characters. Therefore we newly described the species – it now bears the name Sibon noalamina,” said Dr Sebastian Lotzkat, a research associate of the Herpetology Department at the Senckenberg Research Institute and lead author of a paper published in the journal Zootaxa.
The scientific name of the new reptile is derived from the Spanish ‘no a la mina!’ meaning ‘no mining.’ It was chosen to call attention to the fact that the habitat of this harmless snail-eating snake is severely threatened by human interventions. The biologists alert that other species of amphibians and reptiles, which were discovered in the region during the last years, share the same fate.”
“Sibon noalamina stands with its name against overexploitation of nature and for the conservation of the highland rainforests of western Panama.”
“Without the establishment of protected areas and the development of sustainable alternatives to large-scale forest clearance, these unique ecosystems will vanish in the foreseeable future,” Dr Lotzkat said. “And with them, the congenial colubrid, its crawling and croaking fellows, and the livelihoods of the indigenous population.”
Like all representatives of the genus Sibon, the new species belongs to the so-called snail-eaters. Apart from snails and slugs, these nocturnal animals feed on other soft-bodied prey like earthworms or amphibian eggs. Instead of defending themselves with bites, the non-venomous colubrids deter potential predators with their appearance: with its alternating light and dark rings, Sibon noalamina mimics the contrasting warning coloration of the venomous coral snakes.
The snake inhabits the mountain range known as Serranía de Tabasará in the Comarca Ngöbe-Buglé, an autonomy territory established in 1997 for the indigenous peoples Ngöbe and Buglé. Here, the extreme poverty among the population has a share in the highest deforestation rate within Panama: more than one-fifth of the Comarca’s forests were lost in the 1990s alone. Moreover, the region’s enormous ore deposits – especially the copper deposit in the Cerro Colorado area – are in the focus of mining companies.
As the exclusive home of several amphibian and reptile species only known from this mountain range, the Serranía de Tabasará is a little biodiversity hotspot of its own, although still largely unexplored.
“We know from Rogelio Moreno, whose consent as chief general of the Comarca has made our studies possible, that the local people completely depend on the natural resources for their livelihoods,” Dr Lotzkat said. “We request the Panamanian authorities to initiate, in due collaboration with the indigenous authorities, measures to better explore, conserve, and sustainably use the exuberant biodiversity of the Serranía de Tabasará!“
Bibliographic information: Lotzkat, S. et al. 2012. A new species of Sibon (Squamata: Colubroidea: Dipsadidae) from the Cordillera Central of western Panama, with comments on other species of the genus in this area. Zootaxa 3485: 26–40