Mysterious New Snake Species Discovered in Saudi Arabia

Rhynchocalamus hejazicus

Rhynchocalamus hejazicus pictured in life. Credit: Fulvio Licata

Researchers have identified a new snake species in the Hejaz region of Saudi Arabia. Named Rhynchocalamus hejazicus, this small snake is notable for its black collar and reddish coloration, which sets it apart from its closest relatives. Additionally, a uniformly black variant of the species, known as the ‘melanistic morphotype,’ has been discovered. Rhynchocalamus hejazicus is prevalent throughout a large area, bridging the distribution gap between the Levant and the coastal regions of Yemen and Oman for the Rhynchocalamus genus.

The species was discovered by an international team of scientists from the Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos (CIBIO) in Portugal and Charles University in the Czech Republic. Their findings were published in Zoosystematics and Evolution, a journal published by Pensoft on behalf of Museum für Naturkunde Berlin.

Black 'melanistic morphotype' of Rhynchocalamus hejazicus

Black ‘melanistic morphotype’ of Rhynchocalamus hejazicus pictured in life. Credit: Fulvio Licata

Habitat and Conservation Status

Rhynchocalamus hejazicus inhabits sandy and stony soils with varying vegetation cover and can be found in habitats disturbed by humans. This adaptability suggests that the species is not currently at risk of extinction, according to IUCN criteria.

Little is known about the species’ natural history and behavior. Further monitoring and conservation efforts are necessary to better understand its ecological dynamics. However, it appears that Rhynchocalamus hejazicus is predominantly nocturnal, as all observed individuals were encountered at night.

Habitats of Rhynchocalamus hejazicus

Habitats of Rhynchocalamus hejazicus: Top: Shaaran NR, AlUla County, Medina Province, KSA; bottom left: Wadi Al-Azraq, Jabal Salma, Hail Province, KSA; bottom right: Harrat Khaybar, Hail Province, KSA. Credit: Fulvio Licata and Adel A. Ibrahim

Significance of the Discovery

“The discovery of a new species of snake widespread in the central-western regions of Saudi Arabia is surprising and gives rise to the hope that more undiscovered species might be present in the Kingdom” the authors say.

Most of the observations of the new species result from intense sampling efforts in a vast area around the ancient Arabic oasis city of AlUla. These efforts are fostered by the Royal Commission for AlUla, Saudi Arabia, which is advancing scientific activities and explorations to promote conservation in the region. The intensification of field studies in Saudi Arabia in recent years has led to fruitful collaborations and significant findings like this study, to which many experts from multiple teams have contributed.

Rhynchocalamus hejazicus close-up

Rhynchocalamus hejazicus pictured in life. Credit: Fulvio Licata

The discovery of such a distinctive snake underscores the existing gap in the description of rare and secretive species and highlights the need to enhance sampling efforts and monitoring strategies to fully capture species diversity in unexplored areas.

Reference: “The missing piece of the puzzle: A new and widespread species of the genus Rhynchocalamus Günther, 1864 (Squamata, Colubridae) from the Arabian Peninsula” by Fulvio Licata, Lukáš Pola, Jiří Šmíd, Adel A. Ibrahim, André Vicente Liz, Bárbara Santos, László Patkó, Ayman Abdulkareem, Duarte V. Gonçalves, Ahmed Mohajja AlShammari, Salem Busais, Damien M. Egan, Ricardo M. O. Ramalho, Josh Smithson, and José Carlos Brito, 30 May 2024, Zoosystematics and Evolution.
DOI: 10.3897/zse.100.123441

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