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Six new rattlesnake species identified in western U.S.

An individual species designation will offer the six species greater legal protections should they become threatened or endangered.

By Brooks Hays
Six new rattlesnake species identified in western U.S.
The six new rattlesnake species were previously classified among the nine subspecies of the Western rattlesnake. Photo by PLOS ONE

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark., March 4 (UPI) -- Biologists have identified and named six new species of rattlesnake in the western United States.

All six species had been previously identified as subspecies, but genetic analyses and a reexamination of head shapes confirmed the six snakes were unique enough to warrant their own species classification.

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The research was headed by two biologists from the University of Arkansas, Michael Douglas and Marlis Douglas, and published in the journal PLOS ONE.

"These snakes have been long been recognized by herpetologists as being demonstrably different," study author Michael Douglas, a professor of biological sciences at Arkansas, said in a news release.

Though none of the newly named species are rare, the individual species designation will offer them greater legal protections in the future should they face environmental threats.

The new species include: the prairie rattlesnake, Crotalus viridis; northern Pacific rattlesnake, Crotalus oreganus; Arizona black rattlesnake, Crotalus cerberus; southern Pacific rattlesnake, Crotalus helleri; midget faded rattlesnake, Crotalus concolor; and great basin rattlesnake, Crotalus lutosus.

The scientific and standard English names have been submitted for ratification by the International Committee on Zoological Nomenclature.

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