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Persian Dwarf Snakes Actually Consist Of Six Unique Species, New Study Reveals

Nov 23, 2015 01:48 PM EST
Persian Dwarf Snakes
A new study revealed Persian dwarf snakes have wrongfully been generalize as one broad species.
(Photo : Photos of (A & D) are taken by F. Heidary; (B) by R. Masroor; (C) by R. Nazarov.)

Scientists from Ghent University have reevaluated the biodiversity of Persian dwarf snakes and found there are actually six different species, rather than just one.

Based on morphological similarities, including scale pattern and color, the six unique species have long been classified as one, which is scientifically known as Eirenis persicus. Now, however, researchers have added five new species to the list: Eirenis nigrofasciatus, Eirenis walteri, Eirenis angusticepsEirenis mcmahoni and Eirenis occidentalis, the only completely new species discovered in the recent study. The others were previously described in studies conducted between 1872 and 1911.

Persian dwarf snakes are often characterized by an all-black head and can be found throughout areas stretching from southern Turkey to the northeast of Pakistan. For their study researchers examined genetic, morphological and ecological niche differences among 30 male and 30 female specimens collected from field expeditions and museum collections. Using a molecular clock analysis, researchers concluded the diversification of modern individuals occurred in coordination with the Eocene to Pliocene orogeny events subsequent to the Arabia-Eurasia collision, according to a news release.

During major orogeny events, shifts in both climate and landscape occur. Such events are historically known to drastically alter the diversity and distribution of species, which is what happened with the six re-classified snakes species. They all evolved independently from a common ancestor in response to changing environmental conditions.

"Eirenis persicus was not listed in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, because it was regarded as a species with a great distribution range. But each of the six newly identified species within the Persian dwarf snakes must be put on the Red List, since each of them actually has a limited distribution," Mahdi Rajabizadeh, a former Ph.D. student of Ghent University and a member of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, said in the university's release.  

The study's findings were recently published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnaean Society and may be useful for conservation efforts.  

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