19 New species of snake discovered and named!
Media release dated 4 August 2013.
Recently a series of papers were published in Australasian Journal of Herpetology issues 19 and 20 significantly increasing the known number of snake species in the world. As part of a global audit of the world’s snakes, Australian scientist Raymond Hoser, better known as the Snake Man, identified 19 previously unnamed species of snakes.
Included in the group were giant Vipers (Puff Adders, Nose-horned and Gaboon Vipers), Cobras (Forest Cobras) and others from Africa as well as Pitvipers from Middle America. Hoser also formally named for the first time, 9 further subspecies, 17 genera, 16 subgenera, two tribes and 2 subfamilies, including taxa from Australasia, Africa and the New World.
Significantly, in the same papers, Hoser identified further unnamed snakes in both Africa and Central America as a follow-on from the identification of further unnamed forms in Australia in papers earlier this year. Hoser said “I chose not to name a number of species to allow other scientists the opportunity to name them, as well as to avoid accusations from others that I may have named everything and left nothing else to others.”
Hoser and others have recently estimated that there are hundreds of currently unrecognized snake species around the world, with the estimate running at between 200 and 1,000 species. However, of these, Hoser notes that the overwhelming majority will be found to have been already named by scientists at some stage in the last 200 years and only an estimated 1 in 3 species requiring the assignment of a new name.
The naming of species is an emotional issue among scientists and others due to the fact that once named, the species carries the original discoverer's name for eternity. Anyone with an axe to grind against the original author is likely to publicly decry the work of discoverer in a bid to try to avoid a new name coming into use, the result being it commonly takes decades for newly named species to be widely recognized.
As a result, species named by Hoser in the 1990's were largely ignored by others for the next decade, although now all are widely recognized and the names in general usage in books and the like and without argument.
While the majority of unrecognized snake species in the world are small and innocuous species, the majority of the 19 species formally named by Hoser in the current batch of papers are large and obvious species that had been confused with similar species. This makes the current papers particularly significant and of interest to the wider community
All were separated from other morphologically similar forms on the basis of solid molecular, geological and morphological evidence. Hoser stated “the amazing thing is that these species hadn’t been formally named earlier, not their obvious physical differences, with most being generally well-known for many years”.
Notwithstanding the fact that Hoser was able to name a number of new species, he did also resurrect previously unrecognized species described by others in the 1800’s as is required under the rules of Zoological Nomenclature.
Once a species has been named, it cannot be renamed by someone else.
Most of the world’s remaining unnamed snake species are likely to be found in south-east Asia, South and Central America and Africa/Madagascar. Australia is not regarded as a potential hotspot for unnamed snake species, except perhaps for Blindsnakes, these being a primitive group that physically resemble giant earthworms.
Hoser himself has named hundreds of species and genera of snakes in a scientific career spanning four decades. This is a greater number than anyone else born in the last 120 years, leading to others claiming he has exceeded some unwritten limit of species a single scientist should be allowed to name. However, with Hoser having named considerably less reptile species that those named by several workers in the 1800's Hoser rejects the claim he's overstepped the alleged undefined boundary.
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