Move over Frenchies: you are no longer the only ones with an affinity for escargot. Unlike other snakes who dine on rodents and other small animals, five newly discovered species found in Ecuador’s forests also have developed a palate for the slimy mollusks.
Although they enjoy the same cuisine as the French, our new snake friends have a very indelicate way of handling the delicacy. The jawlines of these snakes have evolved to “slurp” the tasty morsels out of their shells. The snakes push their lower jaws into the shell, grab the flesh of the snail with curved teeth, then pull it out without crushing it. The entire process takes just a few minutes.
The jaws of these Ecuadorian snail-eaters have modified to the point that they are unable to eat anything besides snails or slugs, which bodes well for them in the long run. They have little competition when it comes to food because not many other snakes feed on snails and slugs.
Three of the five species were discovered during expeditions to three Ecuadorian rainforests between 2013 and 2017. The two other species were discovered in another dry forest habitat. To confirm the five snakes as new species, the team of researchers counted scales and gathered measurements from more than 200 museum specimens, as well as extracted DNA from nearly 100 individual snakes.
Publishing their work in the journal ZooKeys, the scientists believe four out of the five species are already at risk of extinction. So, they decided to take conservation into their own hands and auctioned off their naming rights off. With the proceeds, they plan to purchase and conserve a previously unprotected 72-hectare (178-acre) plot of land where some of these species live.
"We had to let people know that these cool snakes exist and that these species might soon stop to exist, and we need people's help to protect the snake's habitat,” said Alejandro Arteaga in a statement.
They say naming a species is not just about raising awareness of its existence and risk of extinction, but that it provides an opportunity to honor those who have worked to protect them.
"Naming species is at the core of biology," said study co-author Dr Juan M. Guayasamin. "Not a single study is really complete if it is not attached to the name of a species, and most species that share the planet with us are not described."
The Rainforest Trust (RT) and ornithologist Bob Ridgely won two of the highest bids and got to name three of the five new snakes. Dipsas klebbai was nominated by RT and named for former policy-maker and wildlife photographer George Jett. Dr Ridgely named Sibon bevridgelyi in honor of his father, Bev Ridgely.