Daily News Analysis

Xylophis deepaki

3rd May, 2021 Environment

GS PAPER II: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.

Context: Herpetologist Deepak Veerappan has a snake named after him

  • In the first four months of 2021, the Western Ghats presented new butterflies, frogs, fruit flies, and even a freshwater crab.
  • Joining the list is a tiny snake of just 20 cm length with iridescent scales - Xylophis deepaki, first stumbled upon in a coconut plantation in Kanyakumari, is now reported to be an endemic species of Tamil Nadu and has been sighted in a few locations in the southern part of the Western Ghats.
  • The species is named in honour of Indian herpetologist Deepak Veerappan for his contribution in erecting a new subfamily Xylophiinae to accommodate wood snakes.

About Wood snakes

  • Wood snakes are harmless, sub-fossorial and often found while digging soil in farms and under the logs in the Western Ghat forests.
  • They feed on earthworms and possibly other invertebrates.
  • Interestingly, their close relatives are found in northeast India and Southeast Asia and are known to be arboreal.

Drier habitat

  • This new species is found in the drier regions and in lower altitudes around Agasthyamalai hills.
  • The other Xylophis were reported from cold higher altitudes, of 1,700 m and above, in the Nilgiris and the Anaimalai.
  • Its close relative, Captain’s wood snake, is known from the western slopes of the Western Ghats in the Kerala.
  • The snake was previously confused with X. captaini, but detailed morphological studies showed that the it had a broader off-white collar and more ventral scales.
  • Further, DNA studies indicated that it was indeed a new species and was a close relative to X. captaini.
  • The new find increases the total number of currently recognised wood snakes to five species.
  • These are burrowing snakes and are found from rubber, banana, and coconut farms, it seems to be well adapted to moderate habitat changes, but more studies are needed to ascertain its status.