Venomous snake with weird forked penis could ‘pose a threat to humans’

A newly-discovered venomous snake with form for attacking people and who boasts a strange forked penis could be a danger to humans, according to experts.

The Uetz's pit viper, a new species discovered in central and southern Myanmar, has haemotoxic venom that can destroy red blood cells and cause organ degeneration. Herpetologist Gernot Vogel confirmed the snake's venomous nature, stating: "The species poses a threat to humans, although it should not usually be fatal."

His co-author, Tan Van Nguyen of Vietnam's Duy Tan University, added that the snake is known for frequently attacking humans in certain regions of Myanmar.

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The snake was identified as a new species due to its unique eye and body colour, as well as the male's "much shorter" and "deeply forked" genitals. Dr Vogel explained: "Every snake has two hemipenes, and hundreds of reptiles have a forked hemipenis."

"I have no idea if it has some benefit maybe it's better for pairing on trees and bushes, but it is not certain that there is some reason."

In life, Uetz's pit viper has a vibrant green colour. But the new species was identified using preserved specimens, collected from 1998 to 2009.

How it hunts is therefore best deduced from related snakes. "It sits motionless in the bushes waiting for reptiles, frogs, mice or birds," said Dr Vogel.

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"This new species was described recently, so of course there is no data available, but that is the typical behaviour of the green species of this genus."

A 2021 study of confirmed or suspected Trimeresurus bites in Myanmar found multiple patients suffered swelling and problems with blood clotting.

Out of 355 cases, 21 suffered acute kidney injury also known as acute renal failure with one of these needing dialysis.

The new species was given the scientific name Trimeresurus uetzi in honour of Peter Uetz, a scientist at Virginia Commonwealth University, who created the Reptile Database.

Gernot Vogel, Tan Van Nguyen and their co-author Patrick David published their study in the journal Zootaxa.

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