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17/09/2012 - Newly discovered snake says „No to overexploitation!“

Frankfurt, 17.09.2012. Scientists of the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, Germany have discovered a new snake species in the highlands of western Panama. The scientific name of the conspicuously colored reptile Sibon noalamina means „no to the mine.“ It was chosen to call attention to the fact that the habitat of this harmless snail-eating snake is severely threatened by human interventions. The researchers alert that other species of amphibians and reptiles which were discovered in the region during the last years share the same fate. The study was published today in the scientific journal „Zootaxa“.

Sibon male
Adult individual of the snake with the
pugnacious name ©Sebastian Lotzkat

The snake Sibon noalamina is completely harmless for humans, yet has a pugnacious name. The light and dark-ringed reptile at first sight resembles a well-known and widespread species of snail-eater. However, closer examination revealed the non-venomous snake to represent a hitherto unknown species.
„The three individuals that we caught during several expeditions between 2008 and 2010 the montane rainforests of western Panama differ markedly from all known species of snakes, especially in scalation characters,” elucidates Sebastian Lotzkat, research associate of the Herpetology Department at Senckenberg Research Institute Frankfurt. „Therefore we newly described the species – it now bears the name Sibon noalamina.“

Sibon young
Juvenile of the newly discovered snail-eater
Sibon noalamina ©Sebastian Lotzkat

The second part of the scientific name is Spanish and translates to „no to the mine.“ Representative of other recently discovered species that probably only occur in the Tabasará mountains, Sibon noalamina stands with its name against overexploitation of nature and for the conservation of the highland rainforests of western Panama.
“Without the establishment of protected areas and the development of sustainable alternatives to large-scale forest clearance, these unique ecosystems will vanish in the foreseeable future,” Lotzkat comments on the choice of name, “and with them, the congenial colubrid, its crawling and croaking fellows, and the livelihoods of the indigenous population.”

Sibon male 2
Sibon noalamina is threatened by mining projects.
©Sebastian Lotzkat

Like all representatives of the genus Sibon, the new species belongs to the so-called snail-eaters. Apart from snails and slugs, these nocturnal animals feed on other soft-bodied prey like earthworms or amphibian eggs. Instead of defending themselves with bites, the non-venomous colubrids deter potential predators with their appearance: With its alternating light and dark rings, Sibon noalamina mimics the contrasting warning coloration of the venomous coral snakes.

Protest Graffiti
Graffiti with the protest slogan
„No a la mina!“ © Sebastian Lotzkat

The snake inhabits the mountain range known as Serranía de Tabasará in the Comarca Ngöbe-Buglé, an autonomy territory established in 1997 for the indigenous peoples Ngöbe and Buglé. Here, the extreme poverty among the population has a share in the highest deforestation rate within Panama: more than one-fifth of the Comarca’s forests were lost in the 1990s alone. Moreover, the region’s enormous ore deposits – especially the copper deposit in the Cerro Colorado area – are in the focus of mining companies.

As the exclusive home of several amphibian and reptile species only known from – i.e., endemic to – this mountain range, the Serranía de Tabasará is a little biodiversity hotspot of its own, although still largely unexplored.
We know from Rogelio Moreno, whose consent as chief general of the Comarca has made our studies possible, that the local people completely depend on the natural resources for their livelihoods,” Lotzkat states, and complements: “We request the Panamanian authorities to initiate, in due collaboration with the indigenous authorities, measures to better explore, conserve, and sustainably use the exuberant biodiversity of the Serranía de Tabasará!“

Judith Jördens
Press office
Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung
Tel. +49 - 69- 7542 1434

Lotzkat, S., A. Hertz & G. Köhler (2012): A new species of Sibon (Squamata: Colubroidea: Dipsadidae) from the Cordillera Central of western Panama, with comments on other species of the genus in this area. Zootaxa 3485: 26–40 (2012). http://www.mapress.com/zootaxa/2012/f/zt03485p040.pdf

These photos are – given mention of the copyright – approved for press publications through the Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung. 

The research of life forms in their diversity and their ecosystems, climate research and geology, the search for past life and finally the understanding of the entire earth/life system that is what the SENCKENBERG Gesellschaft für Naturforschung works towards. Exhibitions and museums are the windows to natural history research, by which means the Senckenberg shares the latest scientific knowledge with the public and provides an insight into past ages and the diversity of nature. More information is available at www.senckenberg.de.

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