Scientists have discovered five new species of brightly colored snakes in the jungles of Panama.
One of the snakes was named by actor Leonardo DiCaprio in honor of his mother, Irmelin Indenbirken.
Snakes are under threat from mining operations in the country, scientists noted.
Two biologists have discovered five new species of snail-eating snake native to Colombia, Ecuador and Panama, and one is named after actor and activist Leonardo DiCaprio and his mother.
Biologists Alejandro Arteaga and Abel Batista began collecting samples from the different snakes after evidence emerged that the snakes, which belonged to the Dipsadinae, a subfamily of snakes found in North and South America, might constitute their own distinct species.
Arteaga and Batista collected and sequenced DNA from preserved samples of 19 snakes to compare the differences between them. They then constructed an evolutionary tree of the Dipsadinae subfamily. The tree and the DNA were proof enough: they had a new species on their hands.
Arteaga, whose work with Batista is featured in the magazine ZooKeys, he told Insider in an email that it took the team a year and a half just to collect the DNA samples, but the analysis was done within days.
“The completion of this project has been a milestone in my career, as it has allowed me to make a contribution to the scientific community and at the same time to the conservation of an elusive and threatened group of species,” said Arteaga.
Of the five species, one — an orange-red snake with large, glowing orange eyes — is called DiCaprio’s slug-eating snake. His scientific name, Sibon irmelindicaprioae, is a blend of his mother’s first name Irmelin Indenbirken and DiCaprio’s last name.
The actor was chosen to name the snake in an effort to raise awareness “on the issue of rainforest destruction at the hands of open-pit mining operations,” noted a press release from the Khamai Foundation.
DiCaprio’s snake is described as “docile” and doesn’t bite when trying to defend itself from other animals.
“When threatened, individuals may hide their heads in body coils and produce a musky, unpleasant odor,” the study reads.
It finds its food on shrubs and palm fronds up to 10 feet above the ground. The snake is native to eastern Panama and western Columbia.
The other four snakes include the canopy snail-eating snake, Marley’s snail-eating snake – named after the daughter of billionaire Brian Sheth – as well as Vieira’s snail-eating snake and Welborn’s snail-eating snake.
Unfortunately, the newly discovered snakes are already under threat from illegal gold and copper mining in the forests they inhabit, the study authors note.
As so much forest area is cleared for mining, tree-dwelling snakes are losing their habitat. Additionally, snakes are losing their food sources – snails and slugs that live near the banks of rivers and streams – due to mineral pollution in the water.
“I hope people focus on the beauty of snakes and the actions we need to take to save them from deforestation caused by gold mining,” Arteaga said.
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