A deadly news snake has been discovered after spending decades disguising itself as a much less dangerous species, according to researchers – who named the snake after a shape-shifting snake goddess from a Chinese folk tale.
The new species is a type of krait snake found in southwestern China and northern Myanmar and had previously been categorized as the multi-banded krait (Bungarus multicinctus). However, morphological and genetic differences as well as a particularly painful and deadly bite were enough to classify this reptile as its own species.
The researchers named the new snake Suzhen̵
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“It’s very dangerous,” researcher Gernot Vogel of the Society for Southeast Asian Herpetology in Germany told WordsSideKick.com. “Because Kraits are highly lethal, it is important to understand their species diversity and geographical distribution in order to save human lives.”
Researchers hope the new classification will enable communities to identify the deadly snake and avoid potentially fatal interactions, as well as help researchers develop a new antidote to treat Suzhen’s krait bites.
New snake species
Kraits has long been a nightmare for taxonomists. Suzhen’s krait was one of four different species that until recently were collectively labeled as a species called multi-banded crows. The species is all predominantly black and white and looks very similar at first glance, but Suzhen’s krait has a distinct number of bands on its body and is longer than the other species.
“Our longest sample was 135.5 centimeters [4.5 feet] but part of the tail was missing, so it was certainly larger than 150 cm [4.9 feet], “Vogel told WordsSideKick.com in an email.” We can expect a length of approx. 180 cm [5.9 feet]. “
Other subtle differences were found in the teeth, staining on the underside of the tail and the shape of the hemipenes – the snake equivalent of a penis divided into two parts – in men, Vogel said.
However, one of the main reasons why researchers became aware of Suzhen’s krait was its bite. Although most crayons are poisonous, not all are fatal, and being bitten by a many-bound krait is usually painless and does not cause a visual mark. However, a bite from a Suzhen’s krait is painful, leaving a dark patch around the bitten area and can be fatal.
A legendary snake
Suzhen’s krait gets its name from one of China’s most famous folk tales – The Legend of the White Snake. In this tale, the serpent goddess Bai Su Zhen takes human form and falls in love with a man, but this is forbidden by the gods and she is imprisoned in a tower forever. As such, Bai Su Zhen is considered a symbol of love and kindness in Chinese mythology.
This story has been retold in many different formats, including an original Netflix series of the same name, but Suzhen’s Krait is the first snake to be named after the shapely snake goddess.
“The black and white banded krait [Suzhen’s krait] is one of the snakes that most closely resembles the white snake in the wild, so we decided to name it after Bai Su Zhen, ”the researchers said in a statement.
An important discovery
Suzhen’s krait is extremely dangerous due to a combination of its deadly venom and hitherto anonymity among other krait snakes in Asia.
Suzhen’s krait is thought to be responsible for a series of high-profile incidents involving herpetologists, including the death of the famous snake scientist Joseph B. Slowinski in 2001, after he was bitten by one. Recently, Chinese herpetologist Mian Hou survived being bitten in 2015 after being rushed to the hospital.
However, the locals are most prone to being bitten. “Krait species are active at night and they often enter houses in search of food,” Vogel said. “So often sleeping people are bitten while touching the snake during their sleep.”
Hopefully, the classification of Suzhen’s krait as its own species can help raise awareness and accelerate the development of a treatment.
“Thanks to adequate description and classification of deadly snakes, research into venom, the development of venom, and proper treatment with snake bites can emerge more quickly,” Vogel said.
The study was published April 6 online in the journal ZooKeys.
Originally published on WordsSideKick.com.