by Risidra Mendis
The discovery of a new tree snake in the Kalutara District has caused confusion among researchers, with two herpetologists claiming its discovery.
The new species, presently named the New Bronzeback discretion (Dendrelaphisspp), was reportedly discovered by researcher and herpetologist, V. Vijaya Anand recently. However, another researcher and herpetologist, Mendis Wickramasinghe, has claimed to have discovered the same species way back in 2002.
The mystery as to who discovered the New Bronzeback discretion first, deepens further, with Wickramasinghe claiming to have started research on the new species of snake, soon after he discovered it many years ago.
New tree snake species
Wickramasinghe said he did not want to release details on the new snake, species until the research paper received due approval from the authorities.
“I have obtained permission from the Department of Wildlife and Conservation (DWLC) to commence research on the New Bronzeback discretion and hope to complete the work soon,” he said, adding he had all the details and photographs pertaining to the new snake species.
However, when contacted by Ceylon Today, media officer of DWLC, Hasini Sarathchandra, denied any knowledge of a permit issued to Wickramasinghe to collect species of the new tree snake for research purposes.
At present, Sri Lanka has five bronzeback species that include the Striped-tailed Bronzeback, the Boulenger’s Bronzeback, the Oliver’s Bronzeback, the Forest Bronzeback and the Common Bronzeback.
Anand said, the newly discovered arboreal (tree living) snake prefers moderately higher trees and has quite an aggressive behaviour. He added that when scared or angry, it inflates itself to show the interstitial scale pattern of the upper body, but that it does not hiss. “The colouration of the snake differs markedly from other bronzeback species. Dorsally, the head of the snake is dark brown and black. The new tree snake species has round pupils and white lips with black patches. It also has a black tongue and a triangular shaped dark brown patch with a black outline near the gape,” Anand explained.
He also revealed that dorsally, the upper body of the snake is bronze with two pairs of black bands, which are not very prominent: “The mid body and posterior part of the body, including the tail, have white bands with black outlines, which become wider at the latter part of the body, while the ventral side is off white with black patches.”
The New Bronzeback is mostly related to the Genus Dendrelaphis, but has a prominent feature that no other snake of the same genus has. “The other snakes of the same genus have a complete or incomplete black band that falls across the eye, which is totally absent on this snake. Another main character is that it differs especially from the Striped-tailed Bronzeback, which has bands on the body. The total length of the snake is 119 cm and the tail length 44 cm,” Anand stressed.
The Striped Bronzeback or bronze tree snake, as it is sometimes known, is a common species of colubrid (non-venomous) snakes. This species is the most commonly sold snake as pets. However, when in captivity they don’t live as long as in the wild. There are five subspecies that range in distribution from Southern Burma to the Sulawest. The snake can reach a length of 180 cm, but is usually closer to 140 cm. The males are generally thinner than the females, but are more colourful.
Their colours range from a reddish shade or bright chestnut brown to a shiny bronze colour. The females are usually dull coloured and more stout bodied than the males.
According to observations, the females tend to be less active than the males and are mostly arboreal, but rarely climb higher than four metres. They are mostly found on open ground or on grassy plains and feed mainly on lizards and tree frogs.
The Boulenger’s Bronzeback is a terrestrial species of diurnal (day time activity) non-poisonous snakes found in Sri Lanka and Southern India.
This arboreal species can be found in trees, shrubs, and bushes in the wet and intermediate zones of lowlands to mid hills. However, the specie is also found in Mullaitivu, Vavunia and Trincomalee. They are often found in low vegetation but may also descend to the ground in search of food.
The Boulenger’s Bronzeback feed on frogs, geckos, skinks, and agamid lizards. They are active species and their ventral keels help them to climb trees. The snake’s ventral body is yellowish green in colour and the females are known to lay five long eggs at a time, in tree hollows. The adult snakes meanwhile, are known to grow to about 700 to 900 millimetres.
The Schokar’s Bronzeback is a non-venomous arboreal snake found in Sri Lanka. This species inhabits forests and open areas of all climatic zones of islands. Though a tree snake, it has being observed foraging on land in search of food, which consists of frogs, lizards, geckos, skinks insects and also eggs of small birds.
The Schokar’s Bronzeback can make long jumps among trees if necessary, while chasing its prey. It can be easily distinguished from other Dendrelaphis species by the cream coloured spotted line on its olive green dorsal from neck to mid body along the spine.