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Israeli researcher, colleagues discovers new snake family

“Sometimes, we still encounter surprises, and this is what happened with micrelapid snakes,” said Tel Aviv University Professor Shai Meiri.

Micrelaps muelleri snake. Photo by David David, 2013.
Micrelaps muelleri snake. Photo by David David, 2013.

Using high-resolution magnetic imaging focused on snake skulls and DNA testing, Belgian, Finnish, Hong Kong, Israeli, Madagascan and U.S. researchers have identified a new family of snakes.

There are just three species of micrelapidae—one in Israel and nearby areas and two in Kenya and Tanzania, per a Tel Aviv University release.

Shai Meiri, a zoology professor at Tel Aviv University, helped conduct the study, which was published in March in Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. It states that the small snakes, which tend to have black and yellow rings, “diverged from the rest of the evolutionary tree of snakes about 50 million years ago,” the release states.

Many assume that large groups of animals tend to already be known to scientists, Meiri stated in the release. “But sometimes, we still encounter surprises, and this is what happened with micrelapid snakes,” he wrote.

“For years, they were considered members of the largest snake family, the Colubridae, but multiple DNA tests conducted over the last decade contradicted this classification,” added Meiri. “Snake researchers around the world have tried to discover which family these snakes do belong to, to no avail. In this study, we joined the scientific effort.”

Researchers believe that the snakes in question likely originated in Africa. As Meiri noted, “a discovery of a new family is quite a rare occurrence in modern science.”

Professor Shai Meiri. Credit: Tel Aviv University.
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