Biologists found 5 new species of snakes and Leonardo DiCaprio named one that produces a “musky and unsavory smell,” after its mother

A red, yellow and white snake with large, glowing red eyes sits on a tree branch and stares at the camera

Sibon Canopy is named in honor of the Canopy Family system of reservations, specifically the Canopy Lodge in Valle de Antón, Coclé Province, Panama.Alejandro Arteaga

  • Scientists discovered five new brightly colored snake species in the jungles of Panama.

  • One of the snakes was named by actor Leonardo DiCaprio in honor of his mother, Irmelin Indenbirken.

  • The snakes are threatened by mining activities in the country, scientists noted.

Two biologists discovered five new species of snail-eating snakes native to Colombia, Ecuador and Panama — and one was named after actor and activist Leonardo DiCaprio and his mother.

Biologists Alejandro Arteaga and Abel Batista began collecting samples of the various snakes after evidence suggested that the snakes, which belonged to the Dipsadinae – a subfamily of snakes found in North and South America – could form their own separate genus .

An orange snake with large, orange eyes wraps its body around a palm leaf

Sibon irmelindicaprioae, named after Leonardo DiCaprio’s mother, is the rarest of the bunch. It occurs in the Chocó-Darién jungles of eastern Panama and western ColombiaAlejandro Arteaga

Arteaga and Batista collected and sequenced DNA from the preserved samples of 19 snakes to compare the differences between them. They then built an evolutionary tree of the subfamily Dipsadinae. The tree and the DNA were proof enough: they had a new species on their hands.

Arteaga, whose work with Batista is published in the magazine ZooKeys, told Insider in an email that it took the team a year and a half to collect the DNA samples, but the analysis was completed in a few days.

“Completing this project was an important milestone in my career as it allowed me to contribute to the scientific community while helping to conserve a group of elusive and endangered species,” said Arteaga.

A photo of a person using a tool to poke at a dead little brown snake under a lamp

Biologist Alejandro Arteaga examines a preserved snail-eating snake in a museumGeorge Castilla

Of the five species, one – a red-orange snake with large, glowing orange eyes – is referred to as DiCaprio’s snail-eating snake. Its scientific name, Sibon irmelindicaprioae, is an amalgamation of its mother’s first name Irmelin Indenbirken and DiCaprio’s last name.

The actor was chosen to name the snake in an effort to raise awareness “on the issue of the destruction of rainforests through open mining,” according to a Khamai Foundation press release.

A close-up shot of a large, orange snake's eye

Sibon irmelindicaprioaeAlejandro Arteaga

DiCaprio’s snake is described as “docile” and does not bite when it tries to defend itself against other animals.

“When threatened, individuals can hide the head between body coils and produce a musky and distasteful odor,” the study said.

It finds its food on shrubs and palm fronds as high as 10 feet above the ground. The snake is native to eastern Panama and western Columbia.

A yellow and brown snake with dull red eyes wrapped around it

Sibon marleyae, one of five new species discovered.Alejandro Arteaga

The four other snakes are the canopy snail-eating snake, Marley’s snail-eating snake – named after billionaire Brian Sheth’s daughter – as well as Vieira’s snail-eating snake and Welborn’s snail-eating snake.


A distribution map of the five newly discovered species of snail-eating snakesThanks to Artega

Unfortunately, the newly discovered snakes are already threatened by illegal gold and copper mining in the forests they live in, the study authors note.

With so much forestland being cleared for mining, the tree-dwelling snakes are losing their habitat. In addition, the snakes are losing their food resources — slugs and snails that live near the banks of rivers and streams — due to mine contamination in water.

“I hope people focus on the beauty of the snakes and the actions we need to take to save them from the deforestation caused by gold mining,” Arteaga said.

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