The imposing king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah), immediately recognizable by its flaring hood, is the world’s largest venomous snake and might develop to achieve practically 13 ft (4 meters) lengthy. It inhabits a large kingdom throughout the Asian tropics, stretching from Indonesia to India. However, new analysis reveals that the king cobra’s large area isn’t dominated by only one species; slightly, there are 4 distinct species of king cobra.
The 4 proposed species (that are but to be formally named) are the Western Ghats lineage in southwestern India; the Indo-Chinese lineage in Indonesia and western China; the Indo-Malayan lineage spanning India and Malaysia; and the Luzon Island lineage, discovered within the Philippines.
“The existence of multiple species of the king cobra is surprising because they look similar, share similar habitats, display similar behavior,” Kartik Shanker, co-author of the brand new examine and an evolutionary ecologist on the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, advised Telegraph India. Despite their similarities, the cobras discovered on this huge geographic vary have some bodily variations. For instance, grownup cobras in Thailand have roughly 70 shiny, off-white ring markings on their our bodies, whereas cobras within the Philippines solely have a number of boring rings.
The snakes exhibit regional variations of their behaviors, too. The king cobra is the one snake species to assemble materials and construct nests for its eggs, however the eggs in that nest could be handled otherwise relying on the area. In some areas, the mom slithers off after laying the eggs, whereas elsewhere, she would possibly incubate them in the identical method a chook would.
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But it’s not simply bodily and behavioral variations that separate these 4 cobra lineages; the researchers additionally wanted to know if the king cobra populations had been genetically completely different. Gathering such information on the world’s largest venomous snake was a difficult process. Biologist P. Gowri Shankar, lead examine writer and a king cobra professional on the Kālinga Centre for Rainforest Ecology in Karnataka, India, spent years tromping via tropical jungles in the hunt for snakes that might be trapped and studied.
“If it’s a frog, if it’s a turtle, it would have been easier,” Shankar advised National Geographic. “The king cobra is a different story.”
Eventually, his workforce was in a position to collect sufficient genetic materials to research DNA from 62 king cobra specimens discovered all through the ranges of the inhabitants variants. The researchers gathered scales from dwell snakes and picked up muscle tissue from lifeless snakes that had been found as roadkill. The scientists even recovered DNA from long-dead museum specimens.
Initially, the examine authors checked out mitochondrial genes, that are handed from mom to offspring, and so they recognized 4 distinct lineages. They then checked out variations in nuclear DNA — the DNA contained in every cell nucleus — between the 4 candidate lineages. The researchers discovered that the 4 lineages weren’t regional variants of 1 species, however had been as an alternative genetically separate from each other.
“The overlap of genetic diversity with separate geographic regions suggests the species have been evolving separately without any gene flow between them,” Shankar advised Telegraph India. “The findings have implications for the conservation of these species.”
The king cobra is at present listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), however dividing the group into a number of species will doubtless pressure a reexamination of this standing, the authors mentioned.
This analysis was revealed September 2021 within the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.
Originally revealed on Live Science.