A new, rare, small-ranged, and endangered mountain snake of the genus Elaphe from the Southern Levant

Daniel Jablonski*, Marco Antônio Ribeiro-Júnior, Evgeniy Simonov, Katarína Šoltys, Shai Meiri

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The genus Elaphe Fitzinger, 1833 includes 17 species of charismatic, large-sized, non-venomous, Eurasian snakes. In the Western Palearctic, the genus is represented by three species from the Elaphe quatuorlineata group ranging from the Apennine peninsula to Central Asia. The southernmost population of this group is distributed in the mountains of the Southern Levant, with more than 400 km gap to other Elaphe populations. This population has been known to science for only 50 years and is virtually unstudied due to its extreme rarity. We studied these snakes’ morphological and genetic variation from the three countries where they are known to occur, i.e., Israel (Hermon, the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights), Lebanon, and Syria. We used nine mitochondrial and nuclear genes, complete mitogenome sequences, and a comprehensive morphological examination including published data, our own field observations, and museum specimens, to study its relationship to other species in the group. The three currently recognized species of the group (E. quatuorlineata, E. sauromates, E. urartica), and the Levant population, form four deeply divergent, strongly supported clades. Three of these clades correspond to the abovementioned species while the Southern Levant clade, which is genetically and morphologically distinct from all named congeners, is described here as a new species, Elaphe druzei sp. nov. The basal divergence of this group is estimated to be the Late Miocene with subsequent radiation from 5.1 to 3.9 Mya. The revealed biogeography of the E. quatuorlineata group supports the importance of the Levant as a major center of endemism and diversity of biota in Eurasia. The new species is large-sized and is one of the rarest snakes in the Western Palearctic. Because of its small mountain distribution range, in an area affected by land use and climate change, the new Elaphe urgently needs strict protection. Despite political issues, we hope this will be based on the cooperation of all countries where the new species occurs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4839
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023


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