Scientists were surprised to discover a new species of green anaconda, the world's largest snake.

(a) E. deschauenseei captured in Beni, Bolivia (B54). (b,c) Anacondas captured in Beni that had E. deschauenseei markings but were recovered as E. beniensis in phylogenetic analysis (B52 and B58). (d) E. beniensis recovered as E. beniensis in phylogenetic analysis. Credit: Diversity (2024). DOI: 10.3390/d16020127

The green anaconda has long been considered one of the Amazon’s largest animals. Scary and mysterious Animals are ours New researchPublished in Diversity, expands scientific understanding of this magnificent creature, showing that they are actually two genetically distinct species. The surprising find opens a new chapter in the conservation of this apex forest predator.

Green anacondas are among the heaviest and longest snakes in the world. Found primarily in rivers and wetlands in South America, they are known for their lightning speed and ability to swallow large prey whole after suffocating them.

My colleagues and I were surprised to discover significant genetic differences between the two anaconda species. Given that a reptile is such a large vertebrate, it’s remarkable that this distinction has slipped under the radar until now.

Conservation strategies for the green anaconda must now be re-evaluated, to help each unique species cope with threats such as Habitat loss and pollution. The results also show that there is an urgent need to better understand the diversity of Earth’s animal and plant species before it is too late.

An impressive peak hunter

Historically, four anaconda species have been recognized, including the green anaconda (also known as the giant anaconda).

Green anacondas are true behemoths of the reptile world. Largest females can grow larger. Seven meters long And weight More than 250 kg.

Snakes are mostly well adapted to an aquatic life. Their nostrils and eyes are on top of their heads, so they can see and breathe while the rest of their bodies are submerged. Anacondas are olive in color with large black spots, which enable them to blend in with their surroundings.

These snakes live in the lush, complex waterways of the Amazon in South America. Orinoco Bison They are known for their stealth, patience and surprising agility. The high velocity of the water supports a large body of animals and enables them to move easily and ambush larger prey such as capybaras (giant rodents), caimans (reptiles from the fish family) and deer. Jumps.

Green anacondas are not poisonous. Instead, they use their large, flexible jaws to take prey down, then crush it with their strong bodies before swallowing.

As apex predators, green anacondas are vital to maintaining balance in their ecosystem. This role extends beyond their hunting. Their presence alters the behavior of a wide range of other species, affecting where and how they forage, breed and migrate.

Anacondas are extremely sensitive to climate change. A healthy anaconda population indicates a healthy, vibrant ecosystem, with abundant food resources and clean water. A decline in anaconda numbers could cause an ecological problem. So knowing which species of anaconda are present, and monitoring their numbers, is very important.

To date, there has been little research on this. Among the anaconda species. Our research aims to close this knowledge gap.

Confounding Anaconda genes

We studied representative samples of all anaconda species across their distribution in nine countries.

Our plan spans about 20 years. Key pieces of the puzzle came from specimens we collected during a 2022 expedition to the Bameno region of the Baihuaeri Waorani Territory in the Ecuadorian Amazon. We undertook this journey at the invitation and with the support of the Wavarani leader Panti Behua. Actor Will Smith also joined the campaign, as part of a series he is filming for National Geographic.

We surveyed anacondas from different locations across their range in South America. Conditions were difficult. We paddled muddy rivers and waded through swamps. The heat was relentless and swarms of insects were everywhere.

We collected data such as habitat type and location, and rainfall patterns. We also collected tissue and/or blood from each sample and analyzed them back in the lab. It turns out that the green anaconda, previously thought to be a single species, is actually two genetically distinct species.

The first known species is Eunectes murinus, which lives in Peru, Bolivia, French Guiana and Brazil. We have given it the common name “Southern Green Anaconda”. The second, newly identified species is Eunectes akaima or “northern green anaconda”, which is found in Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Trinidad, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana.

We also identified the period in time where the green anaconda diverged into two species: about 10 million years ago.

The two species of green anaconda look almost identical, and there is no clear geographic barrier to separate them. But their level of genetic divergence — 5.5% — is staggering. In contrast, there are genetic differences between humans and monkeys. about 2%.

Securing the web of life

Our research has unlocked a layer of mystery surrounding the green anaconda. The discovery has important implications for the conservation of these species, particularly the newly identified northern green anaconda.

Until now, both species have been managed as a single entity. But each may have different ecological niches and limitations, and face different threats.

Tailored should be devised to protect the future of both species. This may include new legal protections and measures to protect housing. It may also include measures to reduce the damage caused by climate change, deforestation and pollution. Oil spill On aquatic habitats.

Our research is also a reminder of the complexities involved in biodiversity conservation. When species go unrecognized, they can slip through the cracks of conservation programs. By incorporating genetic taxonomy into conservation planning, we can better conserve the complex web of life on Earth—both the species we know today, and those yet to be discovered.

More information:
Jesús A. Rivas et al, Dissecting Anacondas: Revealing a New Green Species and Revisiting Yellow, Diversity (2024). DOI: 10.3390/d16020127

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