Photograph courtesy Jian-Huan Yang

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The new pit viper species found in China.

Photograph courtesy Jian-Huan Yang

New Pit Viper Found—One of World's Smallest

Forest-dwelling snake was a "surprise gift," scientists say.

A good thing recently came in a small package for scientists: A new snake species found in China is one of the littlest pit vipers in the world.

The new snake, Protobothrops maolanensis, was an unexpected "surprise gift for us," study leader Jian-Huan Yang said in an email. (See snake pictures.)

Yang and colleagues found the species during a recent survey of forests in Maolan National Nature Reserve in Guizhou, China (see map). At a maximum length of about 2.6 feet (0.7 meter), the new pit viper is the smallest known so far in the country.

Though the grayish brown species easily blends into its habitat, the ground-dwelling species ended up being the most common snake found during the research, noted Yang, of Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou.

Scientists have found two other new pit vipers in China so far in 2011: Sinovipera sichuanensis and Protobothrops maolanensis, he added.

Bad Luck Snake?

The group of snakes known as pit vipers includes well-known species such as the copperhead, the rattlesnake, and the water moccasin.

All known pit vipers are venomous, although their potency varies across species.

The toxicity of the new pit viper species is not yet known, but "kindly local peoples warned me that this snake is very poisonous," Yang added.

"They said that some local peoples had been bit by this snake and then got poisoning—one was dead who had not got treatment in time."

Yang's team also found dead snakes that had been killed by people—the Miao, a local minority, believe that a snake encountered in the wild will bring bad luck unless it's killed immediately, he said.

The new pit viper was described July 1 in the journal Zootaxa.