A dangerous new snake species with a bizarre forked penis has been discovered – and its venom poses a threat to humans.
Dubbed the Uetz’s pit viper, it was identified as a new species using dozens of preserved specimens captured in central and southern Myanmar.
It is unclear exactly how toxic the new species is, but herpetologist Dr Gernot Vogel – who described the snake in a recent study – confirmed that the viper was venomous.
‘The species poses a threat to humans, although it should not usually be fatal,’ he said.
Co-author Tan Van Nguyen, of Vietnam’s Duy Tan University, said the snake had already earned a reputation locally.
‘It has been recorded as a species that frequently attacks humans in the central and southern regions of this country, as observed by my colleagues in Myanmar,’ he said.
‘Further studies on its toxicology are required.’
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The species was identified as new based on factors like its eye and body colour, as well as the male snake’s ‘much shorter’ genitals – which are ‘deeply forked’.
That may seem strange, but Dr Vogel said it was not unknown in the animal kingdom.
‘Every snake has two hemipenes, and hundreds of reptiles have a forked hemipenis,’ said Dr Vogel.
‘I have no idea if it has some benefit – maybe it’s better for pairing on trees and bushes, but it is not certain that there is some reason.’
In real life, Uetz’s pit viper has a vibrant green colour, but the new species was identified using preserved specimens, collected from 1998 to 2009.
How it hunts is therefore best deduced from related snakes.
‘It sits motionless in the bushes waiting for reptiles, frogs, mice or birds,’ said Dr Vogel.
‘This new species was described recently, so of course there is no data available, but that is the typical behaviour of the green species of this genus.’
A 2021 study of confirmed or suspected Trimeresurus bites in Myanmar found multiple patients suffered swelling and problems with blood clotting.
Out of 355 cases, 21 suffered acute kidney injury – also known as acute renal failure – with one of these needing dialysis.
The new species was given the scientific name Trimeresurus uetzi in honour of Peter Uetz, a scientist at Virginia Commonwealth University, who created the Reptile Database.
The study is published in the journal Zootaxa.