Nature, Science

Researchers Discover “Ghost Snake” in Madagascar

Malagasy cat-eyed snake
The Malagasy cat-eyed snake (Madagascarophis meridionalis) is a relative of the ghost snake. Photo: Shutterstock

It might seem that, by 2016, it would be pretty rare to discover new species of animals. But a team of researchers from Louisiana State University have done just that.

They were looking for specimens of a different species when they found a snake they’d never seen before: Madagascarophis lolo, the ghost snake.

This snake’s very pale coloration and the fact that only one has ever been discovered earned it the name “ghost snake.” Lolo means ghost in the local Malagasy language.

The ghost snake belongs to a group of “cat-eyed snakes,” which have slit pupils like cats and are most active at night. They’re among the most common kinds of snake in Madagascar, but the closet relative of the ghost snake is found about 100 kilometers away, and it has only been known for a few years.

“If this commonly known, wide group of snakes harbors this hidden diversity, what else is out there that we don’t know about?” says Sara Ruane, a post-doctoral researcher at the LSU Museum of Natural Science and lead author of the paper.

The team did genetic testing to determine whether the ghost snake is a separate species form other Madagascarophis species or simply a variant of one that is already known.

“All of the analysis we did supported that this is a distinct species despite the fact that we only have this one individual,” Ruane says.

The trek to get to the recently opened part of the popular Ankarana National Park was made more difficult by the heavy rains the team had to deal with. The rainy season is when snakes and their prey are often most active in Madagascar, so it’s the best time for researchers to look for them. The ghost snake’s activity during the rainy season might have helped it remain a secret, especially in an otherwise well-known region.

All in all, Madagascarophis lolo has certainly earned the name ghost snake.

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