Gorgeous, but Highly Poisonous Snake Species Discovered in Honduras

A team of biologists headed by Dr James Austin from the University of Florida in Gainesville has described a new species of green palm-pitviper from a threatened cloud forest reserve in northern Honduras.

Male Bothriechis guifarroi, the newly discovered palm-pitviper from Honduras (Josiah H. Townsend)

Male Bothriechis guifarroi, the newly discovered palm-pitviper from Honduras (Josiah H. Townsend)

The new species, reported in the open-access journal Zookeys, was named Bothriechis guifarroi in honor of Honduran environmental leader Don Mario Guifarro of Olancho.

Don Guifarro was a former hunter and gold miner who became an outspoken conservationist when he saw the vast rainforests of eastern Honduras being destroyed and converted to cattle ranches. After years of threats and multiple attempts on his life, Don Guifarro was ambushed and murdered on 15 September 2007 while on a mission to delimit a biosphere reserve for the indigenous Tawahka.

Bothriechis guifarroi was previously confused with other Honduran palm pitvipers because of similarity in color pattern and scalation.

Genetic analysis revealed that the closest relatives of the new species are actually found over 600 km to the south, in the mountains of Costa Rica.

Bothriechis guifarroi was discovered by the team during two expeditions in 2010 aimed at studying the fauna of Texiguat Wildlife Refuge, one of the most endemism-rich and diverse highland forests in Mesoamerica.

Close-up of Bothriechis guifarroi head (Josiah H. Townsend)

Close-up of Bothriechis guifarroi head (Josiah H. Townsend)

This beautiful snake represents the 15th endemic species occurring in the region. Texiguat Wildlife Refuge was created in 1987 to protect populations of wildlife such as the famous but elusive jaguar and Central America tapir, as well as howler and white-faced monkeys, sloths, and a variety of endemic amphibians, reptiles, and plants.

“The description of Bothriechis guifarroi has important implications for Central American biogeography as well as conservation,” said first author Dr Josiah Townsend of the Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

“We recommend that Bothriechis guifarroi be immediately classified as Critically Endangered due to its limited known area of occurrence and the potential for anthropogenic damage to its habitat. We also consider that this species warrants immediate consideration for protection under CITES, given its striking appearance and high potential for exploitation in the pet trade,” he concluded.

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Bibliographic information: Townsend JH et al. 2013. A relict lineage and new species of green palm-pitviper (Squamata, Viperidae, Bothriechis) from the Chortís Highlands of Mesoamerica. ZooKeys 298: 77; doi: 10.3897/zookeys.298.4834