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NICOSIA (Reuters Life!) - Anglers are being brought in to help rescue a critically endangered Cyprus water snake that has lived on the island for thousands of years, but now faces a major threat from a snappy fish with a big appetite.
This month, anglers will be allowed to fish again in a picturesque reservoir which has been overrun by largemouth bass, an invasive fish species which gobbles up virtually everything that moves in the murky depths.
That includes frogs, a staple in the diet of the demure snake, Natrix natrix cypriaca, which breeds on the banks of the Xyliatos Reservoir.
"The primary source of food for the snake is being threatened by this alien species," an official from Cyprus's Department of Fisheries and Marine Research told Reuters.
Largemouth bass feed in shallow waters near the banks of reservoirs, the same breeding ground used by the Natrix natrix cypriaca.
Cyprus lists the snake as critically endangered. The snake is harmless, and will not poison or bite. If threatened, it will either emit a foul-smelling fluid which it attempts to smear on its predator -- or plays dead.
"They turn themselves upside down ... with the mouth open and the tongue hanging out," the Fisheries Department said on its website.
Remains of Natrix natrix cypriaca have been discovered at Aetokremmos, the oldest prehistoric site on Cyprus, dating back some 12,000 years.
Xyliatos, nestled in the foothills of Troodos, the central mountain range of the Mediterranean island, is one of the very few areas where it still lives.
The anglers had originally been banned from the area to stop them trampling over the banks and inadvertently destroying the snake's habitat.
Now the threat from the bass has become too great.
The reservoir has traditionally been stocked with trout, a fish notoriously difficult to catch and sensitive to the slightest detail, down to the color of an angler's attire.
The bass, a larger and more aggressive fish, has made its appearance in recent years, put there, authorities suspect, by illicit anglers who find it easier to catch.
Editing by Steve Addison