Iridescent snake with shimmering scales discovered in Vietnam
In 2019, American and Vietnamese scientists were researching biodiversity in the jungles and mountains of Vietnam when they stumbled upon a strange-looking snake.
It was dark and iridescent, its scales shifting through blues and greens in the light. The scales were small, ridged, and oddly patterned. The seasoned scientists had no idea what it was -- and soon realized they were looking at an undiscovered species.
"That was a really exciting moment," said Aryeh Miller, one of the researchers and a fellow at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, on the Smithsonian's blog. "The specimen looks very different. So different, in fact, that we didn't know immediately what it was."
They spotted the snake in Vietnam's northern Ha Giang province, which borders China. There were a few physical clues in the mystery snake's appearance: notably, it didn't have bright-light photoreceptors in its eyes, suggesting it burrows underground or beneath leaves. These types of snakes are particularly hard to find due to their life beneath the surface.
They also soon realized it was a species belonging to the rare genus Achalinus, also known as "odd-scaled snakes" because their scales spread out instead of overlapping like most snakes. Until now, there were only 13 known species within the genus, six of which are from Vietnam.
"In 22 years of surveying reptiles in Vietnam, I have collected only six odd-scaled snakes," said Truong Nguyen, vice director of the Institute for Ecology and Biological Resources at the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology, in the Smithsonian blog. "This is one of the most poorly studied groups of reptiles."