Wildlife Cold Case: Researchers Identify New Species Of Snake Found Inside Another Snake’s Belly 40 Years Ago

Most of us are familiar with cold case forensics. From time to time we read about a forensic advance that allowed police to identify a long-dead person. Today’s topic is about a wildlife cold case.

A wildife cold case may be very rare. But one has been recorded. It dates back to 2019. The victim was a small snake new to science that was eaten by a coral snake. Coral snakes are related to cobras and are highly venomous. They usually aren’t too dangerous to humans because they live far from most people and have short fangs. No other specimen of the victim has yet been found.

An artist’s rendering of the newly identified snake Cenasois Aenigma. Drawing credit Gabriel Ugueto University of Texas at Arlington

Like cobras coral snakes are members of the elapid family. Elapids eat other snakes as a large part of their diet. According to LiveScience the encounter took place in 1976 in Mexico. The victim has now been named Cenaspis aenigma. Apparently it is still the only one of its kind to be found, despite several searches. The name is sort of a joke as it means “mystery dinner snake” in Latin. Researchers apparently aren’t concerned about not finding other cenaspids. Apparently finding a specific type of snake can be a needle in a haystack exercise even if you know where to look.

Scientists knew the specimen was unusual way back in 1976. Researchers were reluctant to name it as a separate species based on one partly digested individual. There were some major differences between this snake and others:

“… the so-called dinner snake possesses certain traits that make it unique among all of its Colubridae relatives, such as the shape of its skull and reproductive anatomy, and the undivided, enlarged plates under its tail, according to the study.” LiveScience said.

Coral Snake (Elaps Corallinus) and Egyptian Cobra (Naja Hoje) illustrated by Charles Dessalines D' Orbigny (1806-1876). Digitally enhanced from our own 1892 edition of Dictionnaire Universel D'histoire Naturelle.
Coral snakes (top) ae brightly colored snakes of the elapid family. Like their cobra relatives they are often highly venomous.

Colubridae is the largest snake family with at least 249 genera representing between 51 percent and 66 percent of snake species. Colubrids are the “typical” snake. Some are venomous and dangerous to humans, most are not.

Finding new species of snakes is not unheard of. Five snail eating snakes were recently identified in Central America.

After 42 years researchers decided to end the wildlife cold case and name the snake as a new species. The idea was to publish the known information on the animal and let other researchers look as well. Other researchers recently identified a number of new snail eating snake species.

Published by ursusrising

long time writer and editor living in Los Angeles

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