Groundsnakes of the genus Atractus are found across Central and South America. These Snakes are Colubrids, the group that also includes Rat Snakes, King Snakes, Water Snakes, Keelbacks and Hognose Snakes, and currently form the most specious genus of Snakes, with over 140 described species. Groundsnakes are mostly small, dull coloured Snakes, making species difficult to tell apart, and the group probably includes numerous cryptic species (species which are impossible or nearly impossible to tell apart by physical examination, but are genetically distinct).
In a paper published in the journal ZooKeys on 15 March 2017, Alejandro Arteaga of Tropical Herping, Konrad Mebert of the Departamento de Ciências Biológicas at the Universidade Estadual de Santa Cruz, Jorge Valencia of the Fundación Herpetológica Gustavo Orcés, Diego Cisneros-Heredia of the Laboratorio de Biología Evolutiva and Laboratorio de Zoología Terrestre at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Nicolás Peñafiel of the Centro de Investigación de la Biodiversidad y Cambio Climático at the Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Carolina Reyes-Puig of the División de Herpetología at the Museo Ecuatoriano de Ciencias Naturales, José Vieira-Fernandes, also of Tropical Herping, and Juan Guayasamin, also of the Laboratorio de Biología Evolutiva and Laboratorio de Zoología Terrestre at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, and the Centro de Investigación de la Biodiversidad y Cambio Climático at the Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, describe three new species of Groundsnake, based upon a genetic survey of specimens in museum and university collections assigned to the genus.
The first new species described is named Atractus cerberus, in reference to the Triple-headed Dog that guards the Gates of the Underworld in Greek mythology, as the species is described from two specimens collected from the gates of the Refinería del Pacífico, a large oil-processing plant and somewhat Underworld-like environment. The two specimens from with the species is described are both males, and are 235 and 345 mm in length. The Snakes are dark brown in colour, with five faint longitudinal darker stripes on their upper surface, and yellow beneath with brown speckles. The area where the specimens were found was in a deciduous lowland forest surrounded by dry shrubland, three kilometres from the sea. As the woodland where the species was found is highly fragmented and covers less than 50 square kilometres in the Refugio de Vida Silvestre Pacoche of Manabí Province, Arteaga et al. recomend that the species be considered Critically Endagered under the terms of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species.
The two known specimens of Atractus cerberus. Arteaga et al. (2017).
The second new species is named Atractus esepe, which derives from 'sp.' the abbreviation of species used by biologists, in reference to how unknown Groundsnkes are refered toin the field (i,e, Atractus sp.). The species is known from two specimens, one male and one female, collected from a secondary evergreen lowland forest from the Caimito area of Esmeraldas Province, roughly 1.3 km from the sea. The specimens are 364 and 294 mm in length, with a dark upper surface with six darker longitudinal lines, dark spots on their sides and white undersides with brown speckles.
Atractus esepe, male specimen. Arteaga et al. (2017).
The final species described is named Atractus pyroni, in honour of the herpetologist Alexander Pyron, for his invaluable contribution to systematics and evolution of the world’s Reptiles. The species is described from a single female specimen, collected from a road between pasture and remnant montane cloudforest at an altitude of 2026 m, between Balzapamba and Bilován in Bolívar Province. The specimen is 477 mm in length, and black in colour with a double row of yellow scales on its back.
Atractus pyroni female specimen. Arteaga et al. (2017).
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