As a lover of all things reptilian I was delighted to hear the news today that a new species of European snake had been discovered: the barred grass snake. I always find it exciting for a new species to be recorded, particularly as vertebrates in Europe are generally very well-studied.
So how was this new reptile discovered?
According to the paper published today in Scientific Reports it has actually been hiding in plain sight all along. Up until now scientists believed it to be a subspecies of the widespread grass snake (Natrix natrix) but they have now discovered it is in fact its own distinct species, Natrix helvetica. The range of the barred grass snake stretches across Great Britain, Italy, Western Germany, France and Switzerland.
Researchers working at the Senckenberg Research Institute examined the genetic identity of over 1,600 grass snakes, most of them scientific specimens from museum collections.
They closely examined two “contact zones” where different genetic lineages of grass snake meet, one in the Rhine region, the other extending from Central Germany down to the southern Balkans. From these zones they identified evidence of reproductive barriers confirming them to be two separate species.
As the grass snake is a protected species in many regions in Europe, it is now important to determine the conservation status of both species of snake.
Header Image: A barred grass snake. Photograph: Wolfgang Bohme/Senckenberg Resea/PA