Epictia schneideri and E. vonmayi. Image credits left to right: Van Wallach and Roy Santa Cruz.
Greg Schneider, collection manager, Reptiles and Amphibians Division, U-M Museum of Zoology, in Lorna Glen, Australia during a brief encounter with a monitor lizard.

What are the odds? Within a matter of months, in Boston and Bonn, two newly described snake species in genus Epictia were independently named for colleagues at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.

Furthermore, Claudia Koch, who named a snake for the UMMZ’s Rudolf von May, named another snake for Van Wallach, who named a snake for UMMZ’s Greg Schneider. A serpentine diagram is almost needed to sort it out, but suffice to say, it’s quite coincidental!

And, quite an honor. “My mom was excited,” joked Schneider, collection manager for reptiles and amphibians at UMMZ. “It is a thorough, comprehensive study and I was proud to be included.” His namesake snake is Epictia schneideri. Schneider has known Wallach since his visit to UMMZ in 1986 and they have corresponded since then.

Here’s the who’s who in this serendipitous snake tale. Von May, whose namesake snake is Epictia vonmayi, is a postdoctoral fellow who works with Professor Dan Rabosky at the UMMZ.

Wallach is a herpetologist who is retired from the Museum of Comparative Zoology of Harvard University. He continues his current study of Mexican thread snakes. Koch is the curator of herpetology in the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig in Bonn, Germany. Last year, Koch described three other new Epictia, one named Epictia vanwallachi.

Wallach’s paper, “Morphological review and taxonomic status of Epictia phenops species group of Mesoamerica, with description of six new species and discussion of South American Epictia albifrons, E. goudotii, and E. tenella (Serpentes: Leptotyphlopidae: Epictinae)” was published in the June 2016 issue of Mesoamerican Herpetology.

In his paper, Wallach explains that he named the species to honor Schneider and commemorate his 30 years of service to the museum. “Greg facilitated my work in Ann Arbor in 1986, and has provided loans, data and photos on scolecophidians in the UMMZ collections since that time.” E. schneideri was collected by R.W. Axtell on June 23, 1953 in Guerrero, Mexico. The snake is chocolate brown with yellow stripes, with an average total length of 123.6 millimeters and an average midbody diameter of 2.8 mm. Both of the named snakes are similar in size to a school milk straw, in diameter and length. The species occurs in pine-oak, deciduous and semi-evergreen forests and is a Mexican endemic known to occur in the Sierra Madre del Sur of southern Mexico.

Rudolf von May. Image credit: Dale Austin.

Von May recently learned about the new Epictia from Peru, his home country, that was named for him. “It was a big surprise and I felt truly honored by this news, especially because the new species was described by Claudia Koch,” a colleague he admires greatly.

Koch is the first author of a paper published in August 2016 in Zootaxa, “Two new endemic species of Epictia Gray, 1845 (Serpentes: Leptotyphlopidae) from Northern Peru,” which was coauthored by herpetologists Roy Santa Cruz and Heidy Cardenas from Universidad Nacional San Agustin, Arequipa, Peru

“I have been following Claudia Koch's work for years and I am always impressed by all the discoveries that she and her colleagues have made in Peru,” said von May. 

Koch named one of the new species Epictia vonmayi in recognition of von May’s “important contributions to the ecology and conservation of amphibians from his home country.” The species is endemic to the northern Peruvian Andes and so far only known from a small area located at about 2,000 meters in elevation. Two individuals were collected in January 2015 under stones or trunks in a sloped mountain shrubland interspersed with crops. The snake has bright yellow and black longitudinal stripes with a yellow tipped tail, with an average total length of 126.2 mm and average midbody diameter of 3.4 mm.

 And, that’s the end of this snake tale.