Atractaspis branchi

Scientists Discover New Sideways-Striking Snake Species

Atractaspis branchi
The new snake species, Atractaspis branchi, or Branch’s Stiletto Snake, was discovered living in northwestern Liberia and south-eastern Guinea. Photo by Mark-Oliver Roedel

Biologists have discovered a new species of stiletto snake living in western Liberia and southeastern Guinea. The discovery, detailed in the journal Zoosystematics and Evolution, offers additional evidence of the region’s rich biodiversity.

While conducting field surveys among the region’s forests, herpetologists identified three unique stiletto snake specimens. Scientists later confirmed the three specimens were unrelated to all known stiletto snake species.

The research team named the new species Atractaspis branchi, or Branch’s stiletto snake — in honor of William Roy Branch, an accomplished African herpetologist.

“The discovery of a new and presumably endemic species of fossorial snake from the western Upper Guinea forests thus is not very surprising,” researchers wrote in their paper. “However, further surveys are needed to resolve the range of the new snake species, and to gather more information about its ecological needs and biological properties.”

Stiletto snakes are sometimes called side-stabbing snakes because a single sideways-pointing fang allows them to strike and inject their prey with venom from the side. The unusual snakes can even perform a sideways strike with a closed mouth.

Sometimes called mole vipers or burrowing asps, most stiletto snakes aren’t venomous enough to hurt humans, but a few species produce venom toxic enough to cause tissue necrosis.

Snake handlers typically hold snakes by the back of the head, but such a grip won’t protect handlers from a stiletto snake’s sideways fang.

Scientists estimate the new species prefers primary rainforest and rainforest edges, but while one of the specimens was collected among lowland forest vegetation, the two others were found among banana, manioc and coffee plantations.


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