Iridescent Snake With Shimmering Scales Discovered In Vietnam

Hannah Smith


Iridescent Snake With Shimmering Scales Discovered In VietnamSmithsonian's National Museum of Natural History/Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology

Researchers in Vietnam have discovered a new species of snake belonging to an ultra-rare evolutionary branch, and it’s unlike anything that’s been seen before.

A team of American and Vietnamese scientists came across the animal in the Vietnamese jungle last year, and quickly realised it was a unique, undiscovered creature.

For starters, the snake’s scales were a different pattern to normal; they were small, ridged and spread out, instead of overlapping. Even more interestingly, it appeared to be iridescent, with its scales shimmering through different shades of blue and green as it sat in the light.

Smithsonian Institute

The snake’s unusual characteristics soon became clear; it was an Achalinus, or ‘odd-scaled’ snake. Incredibly, only 13 known species belonging to the Achalinus genus have ever been discovered, with six of them found in Vietnam.

Achalinus snakes look and behave very differently from others, but are best identified by their spread out scales. The researchers also noted that the snake appeared to burrow or live under leaves, possibly explaining why it managed to go undiscovered for so long.

Truong Nguyen, vice director of the Institute for Ecology and Biological Resources and the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology, who was part of the research team, told CNN:

In 22 years of surveying reptiles in Vietnam, I have collected only six odd-scale snakes.

This is one of the most poorly studied groups of reptiles.

Researchers from the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology and the Smithsonian Institute published their findings in the journal Copeia earlier this week. The snake was spotted in the northern Ha Giang province on the border with China, and was brought back to the Smithsonian for DNA sequencing.

Aryeh Miller/Smithsonian

In a blog posted by the Smithsonian, the researchers said they hope the snake, named ‘Achalinus zugorum’ will help fill in some of the blanks in our knowledge of the elusive genus. Achalinus snakes are believed to be from an earlier evolutionary branch than other snake species, and so could provide vital clues about snake evolution. And as an added bonus, they’re also completely harmless.

The group’s study also stressed how the impact of industry is threatening biodiversity in the region, with deforestation and over-hunting all contributing to an imbalanced ecosystem that could see rare wildlife like this snake going extinct before they can ever be discovered.

Aryeh Miller, a researcher and fellow at the Smithsonian, said: ‘It’s happening so quickly that we can’t keep up… some of the species unique to this region are gone before they’re even described. The goal is to eventually find ways for the environment and people to coexist.’

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Topics: Animals, skin, snake, vietnam


  1. CNN

    Iridescent snake with shimmering scales discovered in Vietnam

Hannah Smith
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