|Discovery of a deeply divergent new lineage of vine snake (Colubridae: Ahaetuliinae: Proahaetulla gen. nov.) from the southern Western Ghats of Peninsular India with a revised key for Ahaetuliinae [Next Gen Genomics Facility].
|Year of Publication
|Mallik AKumar, N Achyuthan S, Ganesh SR, Pal SP, Vijayakumar SP, Shanker K
The Western Ghats are well known as a biodiversity hotspot, but the full extent of its snake diversity is yet to be uncovered. Here, we describe a new genus and species of vine snake Proahaetulla antiqua gen. et sp. nov., from the Agasthyamalai hills in the southern Western Ghats. It was found to be a member of the Ahaetuliinae clade, which currently comprises the arboreal snake genera Ahaetulla, Dryophiops, Dendrelaphis and Chrysopelea, distributed in South and Southeast Asia. Proahaetulla shows a sister relationship with all currently known taxa belonging to the genus Ahaetulla, and shares ancestry with Dryophiops. In addition to its phylogenetic position and significant genetic divergence, this new taxon is also different in morphology from members of Ahaetuliinae in a combination of characters, having 12-13 partially serrated keels on the dorsal scale rows, 20 maxillary teeth and 3 postocular scales. Divergence dating reveals that the new genus is ancient, dating back to the Mid-Oligocene, and is one of the oldest persisting monotypic lineages of snakes in the Western Ghats. This discovery adds to the growing list of ancient lineages endemic to the Agasthyamalai hills and underscores the biogeographic significance of this isolated massif in the southern Western Ghats.