Vivid snake is newly described and likely already endangered
Fact checked by Haley Mast
Only three of the non-venomous snakes have ever been found.
With its bright red, black, and yellow coloring, it’s surprising this newly uncovered snake was barely noticed before.
The newly recognized snake belongs to the genus Phalotris, which is a group of small to medium-sized snakes. They are usually found in open areas of Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina. The snakes are known for their striking, distinct colors.1
While the first snakes of the genus were described in 1862, the newly recognized snake was first found by Jean-Paul Brouard, a scientist with the nonprofit conservation group Fundación Para La Tierra. He was digging a hole in Rancho Laguna Blanca, an ecological and tourist location in Paraguay while doing fieldwork.2
Researchers named the new discovery Phalotris shawnella, after two children—Shawn Ariel Smith Fernández and Ella Bethany Atkinson—who were born in 2008, the same year as the founding of Fundación Para La Tierra.1
The children were credited with inspiring the founders of the group to work to conserve wildlife in Paraguay “so that one day they might inherit a better world,” the researchers write in the study.1
“This group of ophidians is noted for its striking coloration with red, black, and yellow patterns,” one of the study’s authors, Paul Smith of Fundación Para La Tierra, tells Treehugger. “The new species is particularly attractive and is distinguished from related species by the red head in combination with a yellow collar, a black lateral band, and orange ventral scales with irregular black spots.”
The findings were published in the journal Zoosystematics and Evolution.
Researchers have found only three of these Phalotris shawnella snakes so far in the San Pedro department (province) of northeastern Paraguay. They are endemic to the Cerrado forests, a savanna ecosystem that is mainly in Brazil but extends into Paraguay.1
The snakes were found in two spots with sandy soils in that area–Laguna Blanca and Colonia Volendam–which are just 90 kilometers (56 miles) apart. One snake was captured for study. The other two were photographed but escaped after observation.1
Researchers believe it may be a forest species.1
Because the species is so rare, has such a small range, and experiences a fragmented habitat, the authors classified the newly described snake as “endangered” according to the categories established by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUNC).1 That means they believe it’s a species at imminent risk of extinction unless conservation efforts are made.3
“The discovery of Phalotris Shawnella—once again—shows how diverse but also how understudied Paraguay's fauna is,” Smith says.
“In particular, its presence in Laguna Blanca, an area designated as an Important Area for the Conservation of Amphibians and Reptiles, again highlights the need to protect the natural environment in this highly threatened area of the country that currently has no legal protection at all. The discovery of a new snake species in this area demonstrates that the preservation of this site should be considered a national priority for conservation.”