Scientists found a new venomous snake that can strike sideways

Mark-Oliver Roedel

The stiletto breed of snakes are tricky for scientists and handlers to deal with. It’s not because they’re particularly aggressive, rather it’s because they inject their venom by stabbing their fangs out to the side of their mouth. 

In what’s good news for nature lovers and bad news for anyone who may have to actually hold one of these snakes, a new species of stiletto snake has been discovered in West Africa by Dr. Mark-Oliver Roedel and his team from Berlin’s Natural History Museum.

The new snake is called Branch’s Stiletto Snake, or Atractaspis branchi, in honour of South African snake expert William Branch, who passed away last October. The team found three of the new snakes, and said in their paper that the species can be found in western Liberia and southeastern Guinea.

Scientists usually hold snakes with good ol’ fingers-behind-the-head technique, since most snakes attack by opening their mouth and lunging forward. This doesn’t work for Branch’s Stiletto Snake and others in its family, who can bite — by stabbing with their fangs — without even opening their mouths.

The team says the new species is thinner with a longer tail-to-snout ratio compared to other stiletto snakes. They also hypothesize that such snakes are endemic to the Upper Guinea forest zone.

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