Tropidodipsas fasciatus. New record of snail-eating snake found in Guatemala.

Indigo Expeditions

Tropidodipsas fasciatus.

New record of snail-eating snake found in Guatemala.

On the banks of the River Sacluc opposite Las Guacamayas lies an area of swamp and scrub that until the first Indigo expeditions had not been surveyed for reptiles and amphibians before. The habitat here is very different to that of the Tropical Dry Forest surrounding the biological station. The ground is flat and not more than a few metres above the water level, tall trees are confined to the banks of the river, impenetrable thickets of thorny bushes are interspersed by open areas of ground flora that are ankle deep in water. During my first exploratory visit to this area in February my instincts told me that this was perfect habitat for a wide variety of species that might not be encountered in the forests. Who knows what we might find?

During the first two weeks of survey work in May 2013 we only managed to survey once in these habitats. The rains had not quite broken then, the amphibian breeding choruses had not begun. So when the group returned from their survey I was not surprised when they told me that they only found a few frogs. My eyes lit up however when they informed they had caught an unidentified, but non-venomous, snake. I could not resist taking a peek.

When I opened the bag I was just as confused, I was presented with a black and white banded snake, the head a little distinct from the neck. It looked like one of the snail-eating snakes, maybe the cloudy snail-eating snake (Sibon nebulata). Something did not fit though, I had found these guys in Costa Rica before and they did not look the same as this. It was late at night, so we decided to take a closer look in the morning. Before settling down for the night, I took a quick look in my field guides to see if I could work it out. Sure enough the only species in range that looked anything like the snake I had just seen was the cloudy snail-eating snake. The mystery would have to wait until the morning.

The following morning, after breakfast and few cups of coffee out came the field guides and the black and white snake. One of our colleagues from CONAP, Miguel, who was with us pointed at a picture in the guide and said, “Its this one.” We looked at the species he was pointing at, it couldn’t be that it was only known from Mexico. But then it did look very similar. Ripples of excitement went through the group. I calmed myself, I had been in this situation before usually resulting in the animal in question to be known from the area already.

Carefully we went through the identification keys for what are known as the ‘typical’ snakes (the Colubridae) to which this snake belonged. In fact, we went through them several times just to be sure we hadn’t made a mistake. After, several conversations and reconsultations of the guide books we came to the conclusion that it was indeed a new record for Guatemala and Miguel was right. The snake we were looking at was the banded snail-eating snake (Tropidodipsas fasciatus), previously only known from a few states in Mexico.  This was amazing, in general the herpetofauna of Guatemala is relatively well known and here we were with a new record for the country!

To me this highlights both how much is still left undiscovered in our world, and the importance of protecting our natural habitats regardless of any human imposed value. Everything has its place, even if we can’t see it.

We thank Dr. Eric Smith and Prof. Jonathan Campbell of the University of Texas at Arlington for their help in confirming the identity of our snake and confirming that it is indeed the first record of the species in Guatemala.

Published : 28th July 2013


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