El Oriente

3 New Snakes Found, One Named For Underworld Monster

The newfound species add to Earth

National Geographic - Michael Greshko 27/03/2017

Photo: National Geographic

Photo: National Geographic

The quest to build a family tree for Earth’s most diverse snake genus has uncovered three new species—one of which is named after Cerberus, the monster guarding the Greek underworld’s gates.

At first glance, Atractus cerberus doesn’t look especially imposing. The brown and yellow snake doesn’t get much longer than 12 inches, and it lives an unassuming life along the borders of forests within Ecuador’s Pacoche Wildlife Refuge, hiding under rocks and logs.

But just a few miles down the road from the snake’s habitat, more than 1,200 acres of forest have been stripped bare—the footprint for the Refinery of the Pacific, a massive oil refinery that’s been under construction since 2008. The denuded landscape reminded the researchers who discovered the snake of the underworld. And like Cerberus, the newfound snake “guarded” hell’s gates.

Atractus cerberus and its newfound kin mark the latest additions to Atractus, a genus of brown and reddish ground snakes native to Central and South America. Snakes in this genus have long eluded scientists since they live discreet lives.

“Certainly what is unknown attracts people, and Atractus is one of the most attractive groups of snakes,” says Ecuadorian herpetologist Alejandro Arteaga, who co-discovered the new species, in an email. “They are small, secretive, hard to identify, diverse and poorly studied, [so] the opportunities to make some exciting discovery are greater than in most other groups of snakes.”

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Fuente Original