Finding a new species always excites conservationists, especially when the species is as distinctive as Imantodes chocoensis – a previously undiscovered blunt-headed vine snake found in north-western Ecuador. The species is described in a recent paper by scientists from Quito, who confirm it as a novel species, differing from the very similar Amazonian snake Imantodes lentiferus in only minor anatomical details. This has led to the theory that the two snakes, which occur on different sides of the Andes, are descended from a common ancestor, populations of which were separated by the uplift of the Andes millions of years ago and evolved into different species.
Blunt-headed vine snakes, which are only found in Latin America, are beautiful slender creatures which “swim” through foliage by balancing their long bodies against branches and lianas; they can hold themselves rigidly against vegetation using the lower part of their bodies, thus leaving their head and neck free to seize prey, which are generally frogs, hunted by night.
The Chocó region where the new snake was discovered, and after which it is named, is one of the wettest and most biodiverse areas of rainforest on the planet, and is part of a global biodiversity hotspot. The area is, predictably, threatened by deforestation – mostly for agriculture – but it’s certain that more species unknown to science still hide in its tangled forests. It is, sadly, all too likely that some unknown number of these will become extinct before scientists get a chance to catalogue them.