The newfound fishing snake Synophis zamora. It’s unknown how the South American reptiles, which aren’t known to fish for prey, got their name. Photograph by Omar Torres-Carvajal
Armed with cloth “snake bags,” hooks, and their bare hands, Torres-Carvajal and colleagues spent weeks combing Andean forests for unrecognized fishing snakes, eventually catching several.
DNA extracted from the specimens’ livers and muscles didn’t match any known fishing snake, suggesting they were entirely new species. But to be sure, the team closely examined a key detail in the male specimens: their genitals.
Since Synophis snakes are rarely seen—and half of them were just discovered—it’s difficult to assess their conservation status.
But the Andean cloud forests the snakes call home are among the most diverse yet threatened ecosystems on Earth, as agriculture and oil exploration chip away at habitat.
What’s more, the newly found snakes may represent the tip of a scaly iceberg.
Recently, Torres-Carvajal helped discover eight new species of “dwarf dragons” in the same cloud forests of Peru and Ecuador, doubling the number of those species in one fell swoop.
The region is a hot spot for diversity—but one that still contains secrets, Torres-Carvajal says, especially considering that “43 of the 454 species of reptiles known to occur in Ecuador have been described in the twenty-first century.”