Scientists have described two new species of pit vipers in the genus Gloydius from Zayu in Tibet and Heishui in Sichuan, China.
(A, B) the Nujiang pit viper (Gloydius lipipengi) and (C, D) the Glacier pit viper (Gloydius swild). Image credit: Shi et al., doi: 10.3897/zookeys.1061.70420.
Pit vipers of the genus Gloydius are venomous snakes distributed mainly in northern Asia, but extending into southern Europe in the case of a species called the Halys pit viper (Gloydius halys).
These small-bodied snakes are quite common and have radiated into various habitats.
At present, more than 20 Gloydius species mainly belonging to three groups — i.e., the Gloydius blomhoffii complex, Gloydius intermedius-halys complex, and Gloydius strauchi complex — are scientifically recognized.
The two new species, named the Nujiang pit viper (Gloydius lipipengi) and the Glacier pit viper (Gloydius swild), belong to the Gloydius strauchi complex.
“The Nujiang pit viper has a grayish brown back with irregular black ring-shaped crossbands, wide, grayish-brown stripes behind the eyes, and relativity short fangs,” said Dr. Jing-Song Shi from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Shenyang Normal University and colleagues.
“The Glacier pit viper is blueish-gray, with zigzag stripes on its back, and has relatively narrow stripes behind its eyes.”
The Nujiang pit viper is known only from one locality — Muza village, Zayu, Tibet.
The Glacier pit viper can be found in east part of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and Hengduanshan mountains, Heishui country, north Sichuan, about 15 km away from Dagu Holy-glacier National Geological Park.
The discovery of the latter species suggests that the glaciers might be considered as key factors to the isolation and speciation of the alpine pit vipers in the southwest China.
“We were also astonished by the sceneries we encountered during the field work,” the researchers said.
“During the expeditions, we experienced striking views of sacred, crystal-like glacier lakes embraced by mountains, as well as colorful broadleaf-conifer forests and morning mists falling over the village.”
“During our expedition, we met a lot of hospitable Tibetan inhabitants and enjoyed their kindness and treats, which made the expedition more unforgettable.”
The discovery is described in the journal ZooKeys.
J.-S. Shi et al. 2021. Molecular phylogenetic analysis of the genus Gloydius (Squamata, Viperidae, Crotalinae), with description of two new alpine species from Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, China. ZooKeys 1061: 87-108; doi: 10.3897/zookeys.1061.70420