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Townsend and Colleagues Name New Species of Pitviper to Honor Slain Conservationist

Josiah Townsend (Department of Biology) and IUP graduate student Melissa Medina have published a paper unveiling a stunning new species of bright green palm-pitviper from a threatened cloud forest in northern Honduras, which has been named in honor of a conservationist slain for his outspoken views.

Adult male holotype of Bothriechis guifarroi
Adult male holotype of Bothriechis guifarroi

The study was published in the open access journal Zookeys and has been featured in news articles in Science Daily and other media outlets.

In collaboration with colleagues from the University of Colorado, University of Texas (Arlington), the Zamorano Biodiversity Institute in Honduras, and the University of Florida, Townsend and Medina have named the new species Bothriechis guifarroi, or Guifarro’s Palm-Pitviper. The name is given to honor Mario Guifarro of Olancho, Honduras, a former hunter and gold miner who became an outspoken conservationist when he saw the vast rainforests of eastern Honduras being destroyed and converted to cattle ranches. After years of threats and multiple attempts on his life, Guifarro was ambushed and murdered on September 15, 2007, while on a mission to delimit a biosphere reserve for the Tawahka people, an indigenous group that lives in the rainforests of eastern Honduras.

A juvenile Bothriechis guifarroi showing the typical green color phase
A juvenile Bothriechis guifarroi showing the typical green color phase

“We hoped to use the description of such an exciting new species as an opportunity to draw attention to the dedication and sacrifice not only of Don Mario Guifarro, but of the many grassroots conservationists in Honduras and throughout the developing world who go unacknowledged,” said Townsend. “I worked with Don Mario in eastern Honduras during 2001, 2002, and 2003, and his dedication to conservation and unbelievable skill in the rainforest had an influence on me that I will carry throughout my life.” More about Guifarro’s story can be found in this article by Jeremy Kryt.

Because of similarity in color pattern and scalation, Guifarro’s Palm-Pitviper was previously confused with other Honduran palm pitvipers. Genetic analysis revealed that the closest relatives of the new species are actually found over 600 km to the south, in the mountains of Costa Rica. “This discovery has important implications for Central American biogeography as well as for conservation. We recommend Bothriechis guifarroi be immediately classified as Critically Endangered due to its limited known distribution and the potential for anthropogenic damage to its habitat. We also consider this species to warrant immediate protection under CITES, given its striking appearance and high potential for exploitation in the pet trade,” said Townsend.

Another juvenile Bothriechis guifarroi showing the brown color phase, which transitions to green as the snake matures
Another juvenile Bothriechis guifarroi showing the brown color phase, which transitions to green as the snake matures

The snake was discovered by Townsend and collaborators during two expeditions in 2010 aimed at studying the fauna of Texiguat Wildlife Refuge, one of the most endemism-rich and diverse highland forests in Mesoamerica. This beautiful but toxic snake represents the 15th endemic species occurring in the region. Texiguat Wildlife Refuge was created in 1987 to protect populations of wildlife such as the famous but elusive jaguar and Central America tapir, as well as howler and white-faced monkeys, sloths, and a variety of endemic amphibians, reptiles, and plants.

Original Source:

Townsend JH, Medina-Flores M, Wilson LD, Jadin RC, Austin JD (2013) A relict lineage and new species of green palm-pitviper (Squamata, Viperidae, Bothriechis) from the Chortís Highlands of Mesoamerica. ZooKeys 298: 77, doi: 10.3897/zookeys.298.4834

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