Undergraduate student Chris Smaga published his first paper today, and it is a new snake genus! The name of the new genus Arcanumophis refers to the enigmatic nature of this small snake. Arcanumophis problematicus had previously been allocated to the genus Erythrolmaprus. Charles W Myers described the species in 1986 with the single known specimen from the Field Museum, which had been collected in 1950 by Hilda Hempl Heller near San Juan del Oro. No other specimen of this snake was known until our rediscovery in 2016! The article is in collaboration with Alex Ttito (see full cite below).
We rediscovered the species during a trip to the abandoned "Inca" mine of Santo Domingo, in the buffer zone of Bahuaja-Sonene National Park (Puno, Peru). This gold mine was very active at the beginning of the XX century, as seen in the photographic collection by Bruce Graham. The mine owners opened a trail through the Limbani Valley, crossing the Inambari river and ascending to Santo Domingo. Although there is little left of the mine, the trail is still in good conditions.
The path to Santo Domingo is narrow (and somewhat treacherous).
Santo Domingo is an important site for herpetological taxonomy because it is the type locality of several species, including species that are the type species of genera (e.g., Noblella peruviana). The main goal of our trip was to examine these type populations, documenting variations in morphology, coloration, etc., that could be useful for comparison with similar species from other valleys in southern Peru and in Bolivia. We were searching the leaf litter when we found the A. problematicus under mosses, very close to the original main camp site of the mine (see below).
Santo Domingo around the 1930s (left, from https://bit.ly/2mjTJEp) and in 2017.
A possible autoapomorphy for the new genus is the presence of a crease on the rostral scale (see photo of our specimen left). In his original description, Myers noticed this crease, but because the holotype was not perfectly preserved, he could not determine whether the crease was an artifact of preservation. The presence of such rostral modification suggests the snake might be semi-fossorial or at least ground dwelling. Our finding the snake in the leaf litter, under layer of mosses, is consistent with the idea that A. problematicus is a ground dwelling snake. But who knows? We will need more than two observations to learn about its natural history.
Smaga, C., A. Ttito, A. Catenazzi. 2019. Arcanumophis, a new genus and generic allocation for Erythrolamprus problematicus (Myers 1986), Xenodontinae (Colubridae) from the Cordillera de Carabaya, southern Peru. Zootaxa 4671: 129-138. https://doi.org/10.11646/zootaxa.4671.1.10
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