This has been a banner year for the discovery of new snake species. The latest comes from the Sierra de Zongolica mountains of central Mexico, where researchers have unearthed a rare burrowing snake they have described as a lost Aztec treasure.

The colorful, orange-and-black-banded snake, which they have dubbed Geophis loranca, lives at extremely high altitudes on mist-covered cloud mountains. Specimens of the new species, which run about 33 centimeters in length, were discovered hiding in leaf litter or under fallen logs at elevations of between 1,210 to 1,700 meters.

Another 49 Geophis species have already been catalogued. This new one, number 50, differs from many of its counterparts based on its coloration, lower number of ventral scales and fewer teeth. Otherwise G. loranca does look quite similar to another species, G. turbidus, but the researchers conducted both mitochondrial and nuclear genetic tests that prove it is a separate species.

The authors, from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and Universidad Juárez Autónoma de Tabasco, describe the new species’ distribution as extremely limited, writing that “the terrain is irregular with numerous hills (some of them isolated), ascents and descents, and streams.” In a prepared release, they also warned that this habitat is extremely vulnerable to destruction, making the snakes themselves susceptible to extinction if its home ecosystem becomes threatened.

G. loranca may not be alone. The researchers say the region in which the snake lives is rarely explored, so other Geophis species may be out there, waiting to be discovered. We’ll have to wait and see what additional mysteries these mountains have yet to reveal.

Previously in Extinction Countdown: