Wednesday, November 3, 2021

[Herpetology • 2021] Oligodon churahensis • A New Species of Snake of the Genus Oligodon Boie in Fitzinger, 1826 (Serpentes: Colubridae) from the Western Himalayas

Oligodon churahensis  
Mirza, Bhardwaj & Patel, 2021

A new species of Oligodon Fitzinger, 1826 is described based on specimens collected from Churah Valley of Himachal Pradesh. The new species is related to O. arnensis based on molecular as well as morphological data, however differs from it in several aspects. The new species shows a pairwise sequence divergence of 6–20% from congeners for mitochondrial cytochrome b gene. Lack of pterygoid and palatine teeth of the new species suggests that the diet may largely comprise of eggs. Discovery of the new species is not surprising, as the Western Himalayas has been poorly explored in terms of its herpetofaunal diversity. Considerable genetic divergence in the sampled sequence suggests Oligodon arnensis is a species complex, likely represents multiple species and a revision of the group would be desirable.

Key Words: Colubridae, cytochrome b, Himachal Pradesh, Kukri snake, taxonomy

Oligodon churahensis sp. nov. holotype female NCBS NRC-AA-019,
view of the head, (a) dorsal, (b) ventral, (c) lateral right, (d) lateral left.

Oligodon churahensis sp. nov.
holotype female NCBS NRC-AA-019 in life(a);
a general view of the habitat at the type locality (b)
 Photos by Virender Kumar.

Oligodon churahensis sp. nov.
Diagnosis: A medium sized Oligodon (SVL 275 mm) with 17 dorsal scale rows at midbody. Seven supralabials, 3rd and 4th in contact with the eye. Loreal present. 170–175 ventrals, 46–47 subcaudals. Palatine and pterygoid teeth absent. Dorsal patterns consist of 1–2 dorsal scales wide black bands edged with yellow. Ventral scales white with brown smear along the width of each scale, the smear is darker on the lateral edges forming a blotch on each side. 48 to 54 bands in total on the body. Hemipenis forked and spinose throughout.

Etymology: The specific epithet refers to the Churah Valley where the new species was collected.

Suggested common name: Churah Valley Kukri

Natural history notes: 
The holotype and the paratype were found actively moving along a mud road around 20:00 hours (Fig. 6b). Additionally, five more individuals (uncollected) of the species were encountered at the same locality between the last weeks of May to late June 2020. All the individuals were found near the village after dusk. Sympatric reptile species recorded at the locality include Cyrtodactylus chamba Agarwal, Khandekar & Bauer, 2018, Asymblepharus sp., Lycodon mackinnoni Wall, 1906, Gloydius himalayanus (Günther, 1864), Orthriophis hodgsonii (Günther, 1864), Laudakia sp. and Liopeltis sp. None of the observed individuals showed any sign of aggression nor did they try to bite except for the male paratype, which bit one of us upon capture.


 Zeeshan A. Mirza, Virender Kumar Bhardwaj and Harshil Patel. 2021. A New Species of Snake of the Genus Oligodon Boie in Fitzinger, 1826 (Reptilia, Serpentes) from the Western Himalayas. Evolutionary Systematics. 5(2): 335-345. DOI: 10.3897/evolsyst.5.72564