New parasite species found in UAE's poisonous viper population
Tomas Scholz, an author of the new research, said parasites were often highly specialised in the animals they infected, because they have evolved ways to get around hazards such as their host’s immune response and conditions in the stomach.
With its intricate pattern of brown, cream and black scales, the saw-scaled viper is one of the UAE’s most attractive animals.
Good looks hide an ugly nature, though, because the creature, which is typically only about 50-60cm long, is one of the world’s most deadly snakes because of its aggressive nature.
Named after the frightening saw-like sound it makes by rubbing its scales over one another, it is responsible for a sizeable proportion of the tens of thousands of snakebite deaths in India each year.
But new research on saw-scaled vipers in the UAE shows that even fangs, venom and a bad temper cannot protect against an all-too-common affliction of wild animals: parasites.
A study found that the snakes – the locally found subspecies of which has the scientific name Echis carinatus sochureki – can be infected with a species of tapeworm not found in any other reptiles.
In a paper in the International Journal for Parasitology: Parasites and Wildlife, scientists named the newly identified tapeworm Ophiotaenia echidis in recognition of its host.
Dr Tomas Scholz, an author of the new research, said parasites were often highly specialised in the animals they infected, because they have evolved ways to get around hazards such as their host’s immune response and conditions in the stomach.
“Imagine the stomach – it’s a melting pot. There are digestive enzymes and it’s very acidic,” said Dr Scholz, who works at the Institute of Parasitology of the Biology Centre at the Czech Academy of Sciences. “What would happen unless you’re really well adapted? You need to inhibit these digestive enzymes to not become food.”
de Chambrier A., Alves P.V., Schuster R.K., Scholz T. 2021: Ophiotaenia echidis n. sp. (Cestoda: Proteocephalidae) from the saw-scaled viper, Echis carinatus sochureki Stemmler (Ophidia: Viperidae), one of the world’s deadliest snakes, from the United Arab Emirates. International Journal for Parasitology: Parasites and Wildlife 14: 341–354. [IF=1.923]