New species of snake revealed after 22 years

China Eco Tales

In the latest issue of the international journal Vertebrate Zoology, the research team at KFBG published a new species of reptile—Lingnan Reed Snake (Calamaria arcana), the fifth species of reed snake recorded in China. The type specimen is a subadult male, and has a total length of only 303.2 mm. In the early years, our South China Biodiversity Team (later became the Kadoorie Conservation China Department) conducted surveys in many forest reserves in the region. In 2000, this interesting specimen was collected in Dadongshan, Lianzhou of Guangdong province, and was identified as Brown Reed Snake (Calamaria pavimentata) at the time. As more related species have been discovered in Southeast Asia in this century, researchers have gained better understanding of the morphology, genetics and phylogeny of this genus. Subsequently, when we re-examined this old specimen recently, applying the new knowledge, and combining with morphological and molecular analysis, we found that this specimen actually belongs to a species new to science!

Type specimen of the Lingnan Reed Snake (Calamaria arcana)


Collection location of the type specimen


To get a glimpse of this animal alive, we looked through the slides stacked up in our office, examined each under the light, and finally found the precious images that were taken when this specimen was collected 22 years ago. This reed snake is gray-brown in color, while its abdomen is distinctly orange-red. Because it is so secretive that there have been no other records for the next two decades, this new species was named "arcana", meaning mysterious. And its common name is named after its type locality — Lingnan.


Searching for the original photo slides in our file cabinet


The South China Biodiversity Team conducting field survey (Left: Dr Michael Lau, the discoverer of Lingnan Reed Snake)

The new species inhabited the Nanling National Nature Reserve, in shrubs and secondary forests at an altitude of 800 to 900 meters, and could have a wider distribution extending to montane forests in Guangdong and Guangxi. Since reed snakes are burrowing snakes with elusive behaviour, even the Northern Reed Snake (Calamaria septentrionalis) that was first discovered in Hong Kong is difficult to find here.

Northern Reed Snake (Calamaria septentrionalis)

Original article: Yeung HY, Lau MWN, Yang JH (2022) A new species of Calamaria (Squamata: Colubridae) from Guangdong Province, southern China. Vertebrate Zoology 72 433–444.