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New genus of snake recognised on Sri Lanka

23/03/2013 23:35:12

The blindsnake, a new taxon from the blindsnake family Typhlopidae.

Sri Lanka is a much bigger hotspot for biodiversity than previously known
March 2013. An assistant biology professor from George Washington University has discovered a new genus of the blindsnake in Sri Lanka.

Using DNA sequencing to determine its relationship to other snakes, Dr. Pyron thought the blindsnake -found right in the yard of an environmental agency office-would be a new species. Amazingly it turned out to be a complete new genus.

"When we sequenced the snake's DNA, we discovered that it was an entirely new lineage of blindsnake," Dr. Pyron said. "It's still a blindsnake, but a new genus, a group of blindsnakes that had never been described."

60 known species of snakes in Sri Lanka
Along with the discovery of the new group, Dr. Pyron and researchers confirmed the identity of 60 known species of snakes in Sri Lanka, using DNA sequencing technology on 40 of them to help researchers understand how various snakes are related to each other and their evolutionary relationship to other species around the world.

"We found that Sri Lanka has been colonized by snakes at least five times by totally different snake groups, which have each diversified heavily within the island," said Dr. Pyron, a Robert F. Griggs Assistant Professor of Biology.

That means that even though researchers know a lot about the snakes on the island, there's still more to be discovered-and previous research to be corrected.

Sri Lanka is a much bigger hotspot for biodiversity than previously known
"The DNA data are telling us new stories about how they are related, completely contradicting what we thought we knew," he said. "It tells us that Sri Lanka is a much bigger hotspot for biodiversity than previously known, and harbours massive richness."

Researchers can also use the findings to draw conclusions about evolutionary biology and species diversity more broadly.

Their findings, which appear in the March edition of the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, show just how rich snake biodiversity is on the island.

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