Himalayan Jewel Serpent snake found via Instagram

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A new species of snake has been discovered in the Himalayas, all thanks to Instagram

In a remarkable twist of fate, a new species of snake has been discovered in the Himalayas, all thanks to a serendipitous Instagram post. This unexpected scientific breakthrough showcases the power of social media in uncovering hidden biodiversity.

The journey to discovering this new snake species began when Virender Bhardwaj, an Indian student, took to exploring his own backyard in Chamba during the COVID-19 pandemic when everything had been shut down.  He began photographing the snakes, lizards, frogs, and insects around his house and uploading those photos to Instagram.

On June 5, 2020, Bhardwaj shared a photo of an unfamiliar snake spotted in his backyard on Instagram. Little did he know that this simple act would ignite a chain of events leading to the identification of a previously unknown reptile species.

Zeeshan Mirza, a herpetologist specializing in reptiles, stumbled upon Bhardwaj’s Instagram post and was captivated by the snake’s unique appearance. The snake belonged to a group known as kukri snakes, named after their teeth curved like a kukri, a traditional Nepali dagger. However, this particular specimen did not match the typical kukri snake found in the region.

Recognizing its potential significance, Mirza contacted Bhardwaj for more details and embarked on a collaborative effort to investigate further. Bhardwaj successfully located two of the snakes, providing the team—comprising Mirza and Harshil Patel from Veer Narmad South Gujarat University, Surat, in western India—with specimens to initiate the identification process.

Mirza and his team conducted thorough examinations of the snake’s physical characteristics and DNA analysis to confirm its status as a distinct and previously undocumented species. Molecular data analysis confirmed that the species was distinct from the common kukri snake. Additional morphological data from existing literature and computerized tomography (CT) scans of the species’ skeletal structure revealed that this particular species had not been previously described or documented.

The newly identified snake species has been formally named the Himalayan Jewel Serpent, designated scientifically as Ophisaurelia bhardwajensis, as a tribute to the instrumental role played by Virender Bhardwaj in its discovery via his Instagram post. This naming recognizes Bhardwaj’s contribution to scientific knowledge and highlights the profound impact of citizen science and social media platforms in advancing our understanding of biodiversity. The name “Himalayan Jewel Serpent” captures the enchanting essence of the Himalayan region, highlighting the importance of this remarkable discovery in the fields of herpetology and conservation biology.

This significant discovery illuminates the extensive biodiversity found within the Western Himalayas, suggesting the likely presence of many more unidentified species awaiting discovery. This region’s remote and challenging terrain offers researchers a valuable opportunity to uncover new species and understand the complexities of these unique ecosystems. This underscores the critical importance of ongoing exploration and conservation initiatives aimed at preserving and safeguarding the biodiversity and ecological integrity of the Western Himalayas.

This discovery goes beyond its scientific importance, illustrating the significant impact of citizen science and social media on advancing our understanding of biodiversity. It underscores the collaborative efforts between passionate individuals like Virender Bhardwaj and seasoned experts such as Zeeshan Mirza, highlighting the essential contributions that ordinary people can make towards expanding our knowledge of the natural world. This collaboration demonstrates the power of community-driven initiatives in discovering and documenting new species, emphasizing the importance of engaging a diverse range of individuals in scientific exploration and conservation efforts.

Furthermore, this heightened awareness emphasizes the urgent requirement for focused conservation endeavours to safeguard fragile ecosystems akin to those in the Western Himalayas. As we continue to explore the mysteries within these mountain ranges, it is crucial to prioritize habitat protection and promote sustainable practices to secure the survival of rare and endangered species.

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