A New Snake Species Discovered in a Snake’s Stomach

Instead of finding a new species of snake sliding through their habitat in Chiapas, Mexico, scientists found a new species of snake called Cenaspis Aenigma in a coral snake’s belly.  

Cenaspis Aenigma can be translated to “mysterious dinner snake.” It has its own features that make it different from other snake. For example, the shape of its skull, the way it covers its hemipenis, and the scales under its tail. Scientists think Cenaspis is a tunnel snake, a snake that lives underground, because of the features of its skeleton and teeth. This snake most likely feeds on insects and spiders. A herpetologist at the University of Texas at Arlington, Jonathan Campbell, who led the research team, says no live specimens of the creature have been found, making it  hard to know precisely what it eats or how it lives. The snakes somehow have managed to go undiscovered for 42 years. In 1976, in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, palm-harvesters working deep in one of the region’s forests; found a central American coral snake, - a vibrantly- colored species with neurotoxic venom. When researchers secured it, they also found its last meal was another smaller snake.

This ten-inch long snake was unique because it did not match any known species of this snake. Because of that, it has to be maintained in a museum collection. Over several decades no research team had found a living representative of the odd snakes' species. “This provides evidence of just how secretive some snake can be,” says Campbell. “Combine their elusive habits with restricted ranges and some snakes do not turn up often.” In Campbell’s opinion, the snake’s is not extinct, but instead, he thinks Cenaspis is still out in Chiapas somewhere,but it underground and secretive lifestyle make it hard to find.

The underside of the creature has 3 irregular stripes formed by three series of triangular blotches: very few snakes in the “New World” have the similar stripes. It has fourteen short, broad teeth in the upper jaw, different from most members of its family. Cenaspis’s hemipenis are a strange feature. Many of its relatives have hemipenes covered with spines along the organ’s body and some relatives have cup-like structures called calyces at the end of their tails. This species’ appendage doesn’t have a spine and completely covered in Calyces, making it look like a honeycomb.

The snake is  different enough that it appears not just to be a new species, but also a new genus.“ It’s always interesting to find a species that is new to science, and even more so when it appears not to be particularly closely related to any currently known species,” said Kevin De Queiroz, zoologist and curator of the collection of Amphibians and Reptiles at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of  Natural History.

Little is known about the biology of the “dinner snakes”, the species’ strange, Russian- nesting- doll discovery provides an important lesson about the world’s biodiversity, much of which remains unseen and not recognized. The uniqueness of Cenaspis suggests that the habitat is likewise special, not replaceable, and worth being preserved as a park or protected area.

[Source: National Geographic]