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New Grass Snake Species Discovered on Iberian Peninsula

February 25, 2016



The grass snake is the most common snake species in Europe and due to the large number of these snakes, the number of subspecies range, depending on the author, between four and 14. The large number of subspecies may result in entirely new subspecies going unnoticed, according to Prof. Uwe Fritz of the Senckenberg Natural History Collections in Dresden. Fritz and his colleagues studied more than 300 snakes and compared the genetic data with 85 grass snakes and found that the Iberian grass snake (Natrix natrix astreptophora) is highly likely to be a distinct species of grass snake rather than a subspecies.

Iberian grass snake

© Bernard DUPONT

A juvenile Iberian grass snake.
 

“We connected external morphology, such as scale numbers, with characteristics of the skeleton and genetic features, and based on these results, we found out that the Iberian grass snake – Natrix astreptophora – constitutes a full species,” Fritz told Sci-News. 

Fritz’ data, published in a paper on the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society website, shows that Natrix astreptophora has a distinct habitat from that of Natrix natrix, a subspecies that is found throughout much of Europe and Asia.

Fritz noted that both species have overlapping habitats in the south of France near the Pyrenees but have found no evidence of hybridization between them, which Fritz says is strong evidence that N. astreptophora is a distinct species.

The Iberian grass snake grows to about 5 feet in length and feeds on amphibians and small animals. It lives in wetland habitats and rivers, which are under threat due to draining and fish farming. The complete study of Natrix natrix astreptophora can be read on the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society website.

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