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New species of snakes identified through 200-year-old paintings
A new species of snake has been identified after the Natural History Museum used 200-year-old paintings to confirm that it had been misidentified for more than two centuries. Researchers say the snake, from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, has been mistaken for another similar species found across the country. The new species, known as Joseph’s Runner, had been mistakenly identified as the Ringed Runner, based on snakeskin collected in 1796. Albert Günther, a scientist who worked at the Museum between 1875 and 1895, has made the original mixture of the two species. “The English zoologist George Kearsley Shaw first described the species in 1802. The confusion began when another herpetologist, Albert Günther, misidentified,” said Pratyush P. Mohapatra, a scientist at the Zoological Survey of India, and one of the study’s authors. The Hindu, an English language daily newspaper from Tamil Nadu. Günther referred to another painting by Patrick Russell, a Scottish naturalist from the 1700s, and mistakenly attributed it to another species, he explained. “Subsequently, other writers referred to this work and the wrong name stuck, and was worn for so many years,” he said. Museum associate Dr Deepak Veerappan received a snake from the Tamil Nadu region in 2016 and found it looked different from the species normally found in the region. Using the skins from 1796, very old paintings depicting the species, and over 400 accounts of the snake, the researchers concluded that the runner was not just one species. “This new species does not look like the other new species described, because it has a very eventful past in terms of literature. As it is so widespread, many people have studied these snakes and given them many different names, ”said Dr Veerappan. “But one of the biggest problems is that the names between two of the most common snake species found in India have often been confused.” The team used paintings by Danish physician and zoologist Theodore Cantor, drawn in 1836, which were believed to depict the banded runner to identify the snake.