KEY POINTS

  • Researchers discovered a new snake species in Asia
  • It belongs to a group of snakes that are known to be quite deadly
  • The newly identified snake species killed famed herpetologist Joseph B. Slowinski in 2001

Researchers have finally identified the mysterious deadly snake species that killed famed herpetologist Joseph B. Slowinski two decades ago and determined that it's an entirely new one belonging to krait. The new species was named after a Chinese legend goddess that's known to be the symbol of true love.

While on a mission in Myanmar in 2001, Slowinski died after being bitten by a mysterious young black and white krait snake. Now, after analyzing samples collected in Yingjiang County, Yunnan Province, China, between 2016 and 2019, researchers confirm that the snake is a new krait species. They named it Bungarus suzhenae, after the "most powerful" snake goddess Bai Su Zhen in the "Legend of the White Snake."

"The black-and-white banded krait is one of the snakes most similar to the white snake in nature, so we decided to name it after Bai Su Zhen," the authors said, Pensoft Publishers reported.

Kraits in the Bungarus Daudin 1803 genus are known to be quite venomous. Researchers of a new study, published in ZooKeys, even described the Bungarus as "one of the most medically significant" elapid snakes in Asia.

Among them, the ones with black and white bands are said to be the most difficult to identify because of the similarities in their characteristics. In fact, the categories B. candidus, multicinctus and wanghaotingi have been used interchangeably.

What Led To The Discovery? 

In 2015, Chinese herpetologist Mian Hou was bitten by a black and white banded snake. The area around the wound hurt and turned black, which researchers noted to be quite different from the effect of the bite of the known species B. multicinctus, Pensoft Publishers said in a blog.

Using morphological data and mitochondrial DNA sequence data, the researchers "verified the validity" of the three species typically described interchangeably. They also determined that the snake that bit the herpetologist was actually a new species found in Southwestern China and Northern Myanmar.

The Legend of the White Snake

Dating back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the Legend of the White Snake is a famous Chinese folktale about the love between an immortal and a human being, Google Arts & Culture said. According to the story, a green snake and white snake that had become immortal transformed themselves into beautiful women and visited the human world. There, the white snake fell in love with a man and they soon got married.

Together, the two saved many people's lives through medicine and magic, Pensoft Publishers noted. Still, Su Zhen was eventually locked up in a tower because their love was forbidden. The legendary Su Zhen is regarded by many as a symbol of true love and kindness to people.

Deadly Snakes

The B. suzhenae, or more simply "Suzhen's krait," may not be as loving as its namesake because it's quite venomous, just like its other relatives.

According to the researchers, understanding kraits is essential because they are "highly lethal." As such, it's important for people who get bitten to get the right anti-venom. Although it's still quite difficult to tell the species apart because of their similar overlapping characteristics, their recent discovery, they said, can help identify and hopefully save lives.

Snake Image: Representational image of snake skin. Photo: Pixabay