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New UK Species of snake?

Printed From: Reptiles and Amphibians of the UK
Category: General
Forum Name: UK Reptiles and Amphibians
Forum Description: A forum for general questions and answers relating to wild reptiles and amphibians in the UK
URL: http://www.herpetofauna.co.uk/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=5164
Printed Date: 22 May 2018 at 7:13am
Software Version: Web Wiz Forums 11.06 - http://www.webwizforums.com


Topic: New UK Species of snake?
Posted By: chubsta
Subject: New UK Species of snake?
Date Posted: 07 Aug 2017 at 3:53pm
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-40853286" rel="nofollow - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-40853286

opinions?



Replies:
Posted By: Hawley
Date Posted: 07 Aug 2017 at 4:20pm
Hmm, just seen that. Very interesting


Posted By: Iowarth
Date Posted: 07 Aug 2017 at 4:41pm
Very interesting, yes, BUT not what the research actually shows - see http://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-07847-9" rel="nofollow - https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-07847-9

Chris

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Chris Davis, Site Administrator

Co-ordinator, Sand Lizard Captive Breeding Programme (RETIRED)


Posted By: Iowarth
Date Posted: 07 Aug 2017 at 5:14pm
For those who don't like wading through scientific data this can be summarised as follows:-

  • Extensive research into the genetics of grass snakes across Europe revealed distinct genetic differences sometimes, but not invariably, similar to current sub-species classifications.
  • The animals fell into three broad groups -  a western group which had very limited breeding with .......... the central group which had extensive interbreeding with ............. the eastern group
  • They propose that the genetic distance of the western group Natrix natrix helvetica ("our" grass snake) is so large (c. 7.3-8.2 million years) that it should be classed as a separate species
  • As a result our grass snake would become Natrix helvetica helvetica
  • The small number of known alien grass snakes in the UK would remain Natrix natrix persa
And that, as I say, very simplistically. So, it would mean that technically speaking we have two species of grass snake - one  native one the same as it always has been but elevated to separate species status and the other introduced and relatively scarce which is not so elevated

And, of course, this all depends on what definition of what constitutes a species - which no-one seems to be able to agree on!

All the best
Chris


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Chris Davis, Site Administrator

Co-ordinator, Sand Lizard Captive Breeding Programme (RETIRED)


Posted By: Tom Omlette
Date Posted: 07 Aug 2017 at 6:08pm
Thanks Chris

I have already reposted your summary elsewhere, taking all the credit myself of course lol. 

How many persa populations are we aware of by the way.

tim



Posted By: Iowarth
Date Posted: 07 Aug 2017 at 7:23pm
Hi Tim

Hmm - tricky that one. I know a man who knows and will try to get in touch with him

All the best
Chris


-------------
Chris Davis, Site Administrator

Co-ordinator, Sand Lizard Captive Breeding Programme (RETIRED)


Posted By: PondDragon
Date Posted: 08 Aug 2017 at 10:19am
Originally posted by Iowarth Iowarth wrote:

  • As a result our grass snake would become Natrix helvetica helvetica

Your 2nd helvetica is unnecessary as Natrix helvetica has no subspecies. It's just Natrix helvetica.


Posted By: Iowarth
Date Posted: 08 Aug 2017 at 10:31am
Sorry PondDragon, but I have to differ. Under the proposed new classification, all of the western grass snakes have become Natrix helvetica with several sub-species. Thus we now have five sub-species within the proposed new species ( see table extracted from the relevant research paper at foot of post). Thus, although it would be permissible to refer to our grass snake as Natrix helvetica if it was clear that we were referring only to the native UK animals, in a wider context it is one of five distinct sub-species and the full nomenclature would be correct.
All the best
Chris
Old name .............................. New name
Natrix natrix helvetica Natrix helvetica helvetica
Natrix natrix cetti Natrix helvetica cetti
Natrix natrix corsa Natrix helvetica corsa
Natrix natrix lanzai Natrix helvetica lanzai
Natrix natrix sicula Natrix helvetica sicula


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Chris Davis, Site Administrator

Co-ordinator, Sand Lizard Captive Breeding Programme (RETIRED)


Posted By: PondDragon
Date Posted: 08 Aug 2017 at 11:03am
Yes, sorry I missed that bit of the paper. It will be interesting to see what happens to some of the range-restricted subspecies though when they get round to more complete genetic analyses.


Posted By: Iowarth
Date Posted: 08 Aug 2017 at 11:39am
Yes, I agree totally with that (even though I am a "lumper" rather than a "splitter" and maintain that most of these species separation are actually scientific evidence for sub-species - something which has never before existed)
Chris


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Chris Davis, Site Administrator

Co-ordinator, Sand Lizard Captive Breeding Programme (RETIRED)


Posted By: PondDragon
Date Posted: 08 Aug 2017 at 12:02pm
I was surprised to see that the amount of genetic divergence between e.g. Natrix natrix, N. helvetica and N. astreptophora was in the order of several million years, so the taxa have clearly remained distinct throughout several successive ice ages / interglacials and presumably substantial range shift over that time. Interesting to know what would have been the situation during the glacial periods when all these multiple (sub)species would presumably have been squashed into fairly small areas of southern Europe, maybe reflecting their current distribution or maybe not.


Posted By: Robert V
Date Posted: 08 Aug 2017 at 5:30pm
A reasonable dissertation subject but good job the old copyrights are out on some texts. such research was done nearly 150 years ago. As you all know, Linnaeus identified the Natrix branch in 1758 and examined most if not all the so-called sub species. But Lacepede in 1789 disagreed and called for Natrix Helvetica to be identified separately as Coluber Torquatus /a, at least recognising that certain lineage was different.
 
what I'm a little confused about in this latest article is its resemblance to am article which appeared in the Linnean journal in 2016, but which said that 300 museum samples and 85 Grass Snakes had been tested. Please see below - sorry no link available!!! And are you really trying to suggest that during all that time no hybridisation occurred? Really. Was it worth all the fanfare??

 

...Europe has gained another snake
New species of grass snake discovered

Dresden, 22 February 2016. In collaboration with an international team, scientists of the Senckenberg Natural History Collections in Dresden have identified a new species of snake in Europe. In an integrative study, published today in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, the researchers were able to demonstrate that the Iberian Grass Snake does not constitute a subspecies of the wide-spread common Grass Snake as previously thought, but rather a distinct species.

The Grass Snake is widely distributed across Europe and Asia; in many countries, this harmless reptile with the characteristic, pale crescent around the neck is among the most commonly encountered snakes. “It may well be due to this abundance that there are so many different views regarding their taxonomy”, says Professor Dr Uwe Fritz, Director of the Senckenberg Natural History Collections in Dresden, and he continues, “Depending on the author, the number of recognized subspecies ranges from 4 to 14.”

In cooperation with the PhD student Carolin Kindler, colleagues from the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig in Bonn and additional international partners, Fritz now discovered that the Iberian Grass Snake – previously considered a subspecies of the common Grass Snake – is in fact a distinct species. “Europe’s vertebrates are generally well-studied – the discovery of an additional species is therefore quite remarkable”, underlines a delighted Kindler.

The team of scientists used various methods to study more than 300 snakes from different museum collections and combined this data set with genetic data of 85 Grass Snakes. “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,” explains Fritz.

The genetic studies also show that the newly discovered species does not share its habitat with the common Grass Snake Natrix natrix, whose subspecies are widely distributed throughout Europe and Asia. Natrix astreptophora occurs in the North African Maghreb region, on the Iberian Peninsula and in Southern France. Kindler explains, “the two species only meet in the south of France, near the Pyrenees.” But there is virtually no hybridization between the two species in this region – “strong evidence that Natrix astreptophora constitutes a separate species,” adds Fritz.

As a hunter of amphibians and other small animals, the common Grass Snake, which can reach a length up to 150 centimeters, is tied to wet habitats – and these are increasingly threatened by the draining of wetlands, the regulation of river courses and the intensification of fish farming. The Iberian Grass Snake, however, is much less dependent on the presence of water than its wide-spread relative. Many grass snakes fall victim to automobile traffic; around some of the larger lakes, tourism poses yet another threat to the grass snakes. “The knowledge about which species we are dealing with helps us to better assess the threat level and to implement timely protection measures. This is of particular importance, since the Iberian Grass Snake prefers different types of habitat,” adds Kindler in summary.

Pokrant, F., Kindler, C., Ivanov, M., Cheylan, M., Geniez, P., Böhme, W., and Fritz, U. (2015). Integrative taxonomy provides evidence for the species status of the Ibero-Maghrebian grass snake Natrix astreptophora. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society.

 


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RobV


Posted By: Robert V
Date Posted: 08 Aug 2017 at 5:43pm
...And I know for a fact that Helvetica breeds with astreptophora because.... izer seen it wit my own eyes boss.... so who should I sue???

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RobV


Posted By: Iowarth
Date Posted: 08 Aug 2017 at 5:47pm
LOL - no point sueing them Rob - speaking as a lumper rather than splitter it won't stop new species being invented overnight just because they have found (at last!) scientific justification for some sub-species.
Chris


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Chris Davis, Site Administrator

Co-ordinator, Sand Lizard Captive Breeding Programme (RETIRED)


Posted By: PondDragon
Date Posted: 08 Aug 2017 at 11:54pm
Originally posted by Robert V Robert V wrote:

what I'm a little confused about in this latest article is its resemblance to am article which appeared in the Linnean journal in 2016, but which said that 300 museum samples and 85 Grass Snakes had been tested. Please see below - sorry no link available!!! And are you really trying to suggest that during all that time no hybridisation occurred? Really. Was it worth all the fanfare??

The 2016 article was separating N. astreptophora from all the rest, the recent article is separating N. helvetica and N. natrix using the same methodology. From a very superficial reading of the 2016 article there were a very small number of hybrids identified along the narrow zone of overlap, but the vast bulk of the population was pure one or the other. So it seems that the hybrids tended to be unsuccessful over the long term, keeping the species separate. The same was true for hybrids between N. helvetica and N. natrix in the 2017 paper, but not for hybrids between N. natrix natrix and N. n. persa which occurred over a wide zone of intermediates indicating that these are not separate species.


Posted By: Caleb
Date Posted: 09 Aug 2017 at 9:35am
The 2016 paper is available here:
https://academic.oup.com/biolinnean/article-lookup/doi/10.1111/bij.12782" rel="nofollow - Integrative taxonomy provides evidence for the species status of the Ibero-Maghrebian grass snake

The new paper suggests that the grass snake species group is similar to other groups like fire-bellied/yellow-bellied toads (Bombina) and crested newts (Triturus cristatus, carnifex etc) which have narrow hybrid zones where the species' distributions meet.



Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 09 Aug 2017 at 12:57pm
Just an observation...I know a place with grass snakes with no water anywhere in the vicinity. No ponds or streams and the nearest being maybe half a mile away across a busy road. This grass snake site is heathland quite high up.

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Suz


Posted By: JamesB
Date Posted: 02 Oct 2017 at 1:18pm
Hi, apologies for bringing this back up. Could anyone answer a quick query re identifying Natrix Helvetica Helvetica vs Natrix Natrix? I've read numerous articles that state a more olive colour and blacker markings on Helvetica, as well as there being no yellow collar present. Is this always the case?

It may be a trick of the mind but I seem to recall seeing far more with yellow collar than without & certainly my local snakes all have one present. Are these therefore Natrix Natrix? Bad picture below and thanks!




Posted By: Iowarth
Date Posted: 02 Oct 2017 at 6:17pm
Hi James

Perfectly reasonable query which arises largely because many of the articles which exploded through the media when this was announced were very poorly and, at best, confusingly written (if not totally inaccurately).

Firstly, the UK/western European (except Iberia) grass snake (Natrix helvetica - maybe) generally has a yellow collar but occasional individuals or isolated populations may lack it (or appear to lack it due to it being very pale). This is probably most pronounced in Natrix helvetica cetti. This tends to be reversed with Natrix natrix spp. It is NOT however definitive.

All the best
Chris


-------------
Chris Davis, Site Administrator

Co-ordinator, Sand Lizard Captive Breeding Programme (RETIRED)


Posted By: JamesB
Date Posted: 03 Oct 2017 at 8:47am
Brilliant, thank you very much. Amazing how confusing the news articles managed to be, given how short most of them were! Much for me to learn but will enjoy doing so.


Posted By: churchfield62
Date Posted: 03 Dec 2017 at 12:01pm
...and after 16m years cobras are back to europe.
(bite/15mm tooth gap)

all on twitter about naja nigricollis @kirchfeld62


Posted By: churchfield62
Date Posted: 03 Dec 2017 at 12:05pm
tried to catch her during night in my bed.



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