Guifarro’s Palm Pit Viper (Bothriechis guifarroi), recently described as a new venomous reptile species in the journal Zookeys, may already be in danger of extinction. In an attempt to draw attention to its plight, the newfound snake has been named after Mario Guifarro, a conservationist murdered for his work within its habitat. Three other arboreal pit vipers have been uncovered in recent years (please see below)…each also faces an uncertain future.
I’ve had the good fortune of working with several Bothriechis species at the Bronx and Staten Island Zoos. Although somewhat similar in external appearance, each inhabits a unique habitat, or niche within a habitat, and they can teach us a great deal about how snakes evolve and partition resources. Guifarro’s Palm Pit Viper is the 10th species to be included in the genus (the last to be described was B. thalassinus, in the year 2000), but I’m sure more await discovery.
Rare Species in a Threatened Habitat
Guifarro’s Palm Pit Viper inhabits northern Honduras’ highland cloud forest region. It is the 15th endemic species (animals found nowhere else) to be found in the area, which has now been designated as the Taxiguat Wildlife Refuge. It is not known whether this snake occurred elsewhere in the past, as the surrounding forests have been largely destroyed to make way for cattle ranches and other uses.
Although similar in appearance to neighboring species, Guifarro’s Palm Pit Viper’s nearest relative actually resides in Costa Rica. Further studies should reveal insights into how this group of snakes evolved into the similar but distinct species we know today.
Mario Guifarro, for whom the snake is named, was an outspoken critic of development in the region and supported the rights of the indigenous Tawahka people. He was murdered him in 2007, apparently by opponents of his conservation activities.
Other Newly-Discovered Arboreal Vipers
Snake enthusiasts were pleased to learn of the recent discoveries of brilliantly-colored arboreal vipers in Africa, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.
Tanzania yielded Matilda’s Horned Viper, Atheris matildae, while the Ruby-Eyed Green Viper, Cryptelytrops rubeus and the Yellow-Eyed Green Viper, C. cardumonensi were uncovered in Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, all face severe habitat loss and other threats. Please see the articles linked below for further information on these and other new species and their unique habitats.