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Having gone to the forests in the south of Ecuador in search of toads, a team of scientists immediately discovered three species of snakes unknown to science. And it happened quite by accident. Returning home from the expedition, the researchers stopped in the city of Amalusa. Here, they heard from a local woman that there are snakes in the local cemetery. Alejandro Arteaga, the team leader, suggested from the description that it was an Atractus. Snakes of this species spend most of their time underground. However, they had never been seen before in the southern part of Ecuador, so scientists were interested in the woman’s story. They went to the cemetery, and among the graves in loose soil they really found snakes, which surprised them a lot.
Snakes that burrow in sand
Have you ever heard of such a type of underground snake? If not, then you are not alone. This species is considered the least studied. For example, males and cubs of some terrestrial snakes known to science have never yet caught the eye of scientists. This is due to the fact that ground snakes mostly live underground, in deep crevices or dense forests. And all of them are found exclusively in Central and South America.
Now, as it turned out, man-made ones, such as cemeteries, as well as churches in small towns, can be added to the habitats of these reptiles. According to scientists, such places attract snakes for the reason that they are sparsely populated and quiet. Snakes try to avoid noisy places where there are a lot of people, as people often kill them out of fear, but in vain, because the snakes cannot harm a person. They don’t have the poison for that. They simply do not need it, as they feed on earthworms.
Three new types of ground snakes
Scientists similarly described the discovered underground reptiles in their study published in the journal ZooKeys. They were named Atractus discovery, Atractus zgap and Atractus michaelsabini. All of them are small snakes, which themselves are not much larger than an earthworm.
Atractus discovery has small eyes and a yellow belly with a black stripe, Atractus zgap can be recognized by its yellow belly without lines. Atractus michaelsabini is the largest of these three species. You can see them in more detail in this video.
Snake burrow meaning
As being explained above, these types of snake naturally burrow the soil just like earthworms do. I must say that the discovery of these new species of land snakes is not something extremely unusual. As the scientists themselves note, more than half of the species of Atractus have been discovered over the past 40 years. As we said, they are poorly understood, and it is possible that there are still many of their species that are still unknown.
Although, due to the fact that land snakes are poorly understood, it is difficult to distinguish new species from those already known to science. This is reminiscent of the situation with deep-sea sharks, which are also little known. For example, because of the deep-seated shark recently caught off the coast of Australia, disputes have arisen in the scientific community, as we talked about in previous article.
So after the discovery of new snakes, scientists did not agree. Some experts argue that the two species described by Alejandro Arteaga’s team may already be known to science. A. michaelsabini is very similar to the previously described ground snake A. Roulei. A. Discovery, on the other hand, resembles another species known as A. resplendens. Therefore, scientists plan to conduct additional research to put an end to this issue. But, in any case, they undoubtedly managed to discover at least one species.
What are the benefits of underground snakes
Since the snakes do not have poison, at first glance they cannot be of any benefit to medicine, like, for example, vipers, cobras, coral snakes, etc. The poison of the latter is often used in medicine in the manufacture of various preparations, ointments and serums. But according to Alejandro Arteaga, underground snakes can actually be very useful too.
The fact is that their main enemy in nature is a poisonous coral snake that feeds on them. Scientists suggest that in the course of evolution, terrestrial snakes developed biological resistance to the venom of coral snakes in the blood, just as the venom itself was formed in the course of evolution in poisonous species.
It’s possible that studying the blood of ground snakes could lead to a breakthrough in the development of antivenoms that could help people bitten by coral snakes. In Ecuador, between 1,400 and 1,600 bites are recorded annually. Moreover, the number of deaths from the snake is very high. Without medical assistance, a person dies within 20-24 hours. In this way, snakes living among gravestones can do their part to ensure that fewer people end up in cemeteries. Here is such a paradox.