Two New Species of Pit Viper Discovered

Cryptelytrops rubeusPhoto: Peter Paul Van DijkCryptelytrops rubeus, also known as Ruby-eyed pit viper

We often read reports about the population decline of various species. We are also aware of the fact that because of this, our planet might face mass extinction soon. But for all our readers, there is good news too. A group of researchers has succeeded in discovering two new species of the world’s newest pit viper in Southeast Asia. These new species have been named as Cryptelytrops rubeus, and Cryptelytrops cardamomensis.

Dr. Anita Malhotra has led over 12 years of genetic research work in collaboration with her colleagues Dr. Bryan Stuart, Professor Roger Thorpe and PhD student Mrinalini before this discovery. In an email the study co-author and molecular ecologist at Bangor University, UK, said: “The species occupy tropical hill evergreen forests in different mountainous areas in south-east Asia. In fact, they are present in Cambodia in the south-west (C. cardamomensis) and eastern (C. rubeus) mountain ranges, separated from each other by the lowland areas of the Mekong basin.”

C. cardamomensisPhoto: Roger ThorpeCryptelytrops cardamomensis, striking yellow-eyed pit viper

Per the study paper published in the journal Zootaxa, the two new species had previously been confused with the original big-eyed pit viper C. macrops, from which they were distinguished. Later studies on the specimen collected from Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam between 1999 and 2003 revealed that both are fairly new species.

“This continues a trend among these beautiful Asian green pit vipers (and indeed many other amphibian and reptilian taxa in this region) of splitting what were thought to be widespread and variable species into different species with smaller ranges, and has only really been possible to do with the aid of genetic data, since the physical characteristics are very similar between a wide range of species (often quite distantly related to each other),” added Dr. Malhotra.

Dr. Anita Malhotra taking blood from the tail of a pitviper for DNA analysisPhoto: Anita MalhotraDr. Anita Malhotra taking blood sample from the tail of a pitviper for DNA analysis

Talking about characteristics of these new found pit vipers, Dr. Malhotra said: “While some of these species seem to adapt quite well to the presence of man, others are more restricted to forested environments and may be much more vulnerable to ongoing habitat destruction because of these smaller ranges.”

My sincere thanks to Dr. Anita Malhotra for her answers and the rare images of the new found species.

Source: 1, and interview with Dr. Anita Malhotra