Cenaspis - new snake species found in another snake’s stomach

Cenaspis further differs from known species because of its elongated skull and undivided subcaudal scales.

Cenaspis - new snake species found in another snake’s stomach
Pic Courtesy: Smithsonian.com

Texas: In what could be a big scientific breakthrough, the biologists at the University of Texas have recently found a new snake species - Cenaspis aenigma – from inside coral snakes' stomachs.

The discovery is significant since the Cenaspis has largely remained elusive and never been captured alive.

The “mysterious dinner snake” represents not only a new species but an entirely new genus, the finding says.

Though this is not the first time that snakes have been found inside coral snakes' stomachs, it is the first recorded instance of an entirely new genus being identified from the remnants of a fellow serpent’s last meal. 

According to a report published in Smithsonian.com, the slithering serpent had once surrendered itself to scientists and that too in a distinctly roundabout manner way back in 1976.

Unwittingly trapped in the belly of the venomous Central American coral snake, Cenaspis was first spotted by the researchers in 1976.

The animal was spotted when a group of palm-harvesters working in the Mexican state of Chiapas caught a coral snake that had recently snacked on the smaller species. 

Due to the partially digested specimen’s irregular stripes, spineless hemipenes and skull shape, Cenaspis defied categorization for many decades. 

But now, nearly 42 years after the animal was first spotted in Mexico, biologists from the University of Texas have finally succeeded in shedding some light on the enigmatic snake’s origins.

The findings were recently published in the Journal of Herpetology, in which Cenaspis were identified as not only a new species but an entirely new genus. 

According to the findings, the sole 10-inch male that represents both genus and species boasts an underside decorated with three triangular marks, affording its ventral scales a striped appearance divergent from that of other New World snakes.

Cenaspis further differs from known species because of its elongated skull and undivided subcaudal scales, which are plates on the underside of the tail.

Cenaspis’ teeth also suggest the snake is more complex than your average woodland burrower, which typically feasts on soft-bodied prey such as slugs and earthworms. The snake’s mouth and teeth appear to be equipped for wrangling hard-bodied prey, including insects and spiders.

Although this is for the first time that a new genus has been identified from the remnants of a coral snake’s last meal, the scientists are yet to identify more than one Cenaspis specimen before coming to the conclusion that the animal has vanished from the face of the Earth.