Feisty New Snake Species Has Some Nasty Tricks Up Its Sleeve


Tom Hale


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist

The newly described species: Branch’s stiletto snake, or Atractaspis branchi. Mark-Oliver Rödel et al/Museum für Naturkunde Berlin

A new species of snake has been discovered in West Africa. Although it looks mighty pretty, with a purpley iridescent sheen, this sassy newly described stiletto snake has some terrifying tricks up its sleeve.

On top of its extremely short and stout skull, typical of this snake genus, it also has fangs sticking out of the corner of its mouth. It’s even able to stab its unsuspecting victims sideways with a closed mouth. Oh, and it can jump its own body length.


As you can imagine, this makes the venomous snake very difficult for humans to handle and study, as it’s still able to stab your fingers, even if you’re holding it behind the head. Fortunately, it’s not venomous enough to kill a human, although it can cause serious tissue necrosis.

The new species of snake was discovered by biologists led by Dr Mark-Oliver Roedel from the Museum of Natural History in Berlin, and is described in the journal Zoosystematics and Evolution.

They named it Branch’s stiletto snake, or Atractaspis branchi, as a homage to Professor William “Bill” Branch, a world-leading expert on African reptiles and friends of the study authors, who died in February 2017.

“[We] are particularly pleased to name the species in memory of Bill,” the authors write in the study. “We remember our outstanding field trips with him, unforgettable discussions with a large portion of special humor, and his friendship. The dedication of this species of stiletto snake to Bill is particularly appropriate.”

The typical habitat of Branch’s stiletto snake in north-western Liberia. Mark-Oliver Roedel

The first individual they found was at night along a steep bank in the forests of north-western Liberia. Upon picking up the snake, it tried to attack the unfortunate handler several times.

“The snake repeatedly tried to strike,” the study reads. “Either it tried to move slowly away from the human observers or it abruptly coiled and uncoiled, often jumping distances equaling almost its entire body length.”

Two other examples of the species were later collected from banana and coffee plantations in south-eastern Guinea.

Branch's stiletto snake lives in the edges of the remote rainforest in the Upper Guinea forest zone of Liberia and Guinea in West Africa. As the researchers note, this tropical seasonal forest is well known for its unique and diverse wildlife. Among its inhabitants are chimpanzees, leopards, pygmy hippopotamus, and African golden cats. Unfortunately, it’s also recognized as a “threatened biogeographic region.”


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