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Officials to clear homeless encampment near campus in May
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • March 4, 2024

Biology professor finds new species of snail-eating snakes in Ecuador, Peru

After four years of expeditions to rainforests in Ecuador, a professor and members of his research team discovered five new species of snail-eating snakes, according to a release Thursday.

Alex Pyron, an assistant professor of biology, helped uncover the snakes during a series of expeditions to Ecuador and Peru between 2013 and 2017. The new species, which are all known to eat the bodies of snails out of their shells, are considered endangered or vulnerable, meaning they are likely to become endangered, the release states.

Pyron collaborated with Alejandro Arteaga, a doctoral student at the American Museum of Natural History’s Richard Gilder Graduate School, to complete the research.

Arteaga said four out of the five snakes discovered could go extinct because the forests they live in are “almost completely destroyed.” Snail-eating snakes are some of the most diverse groups of snakes known to live in trees, with more than 70 currently recognized species, according to the release.

The snakes use a modified jaw to suck snails’ bodies out of their shells, the release states.

During the team’s expeditions, researchers confirmed that the five snakes they discovered were new species by gathering DNA from museum specimens and using data from previously discovered snake species. The researchers’ study included a new evolutionary tree for the snail-eating snakes, according to the release.

But the researchers added that there is more work ahead to identify more of these types of snakes.

“Unfortunately, our time to find them is likely running short,” Arteaga said. “These snakes are harmless to humans, but humans are not harmless to them.”

Eleven other researchers contributed to the findings, including Timothy Colston, a research collaborator in the biology department.

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