Meet Australia’s newest snake
Visitors to Australia are often told the place is full of animals that can kill you. Well, now there’s another one. Andrew Masterson reports.
A newly discovered species of snake adds to Australia’s already impressive collection of native venomous creatures.
The snake, formally named as Vermicella parscauda, is a bandy-bandy, a group that contains five previously described species. Bandy-bandies are small black-and-white reptiles that live in burrows and have highly specialised diets, feasting primarily on another type of snake, known as blindsnakes.
The most recent addition to the family was discovered by a team led by herpetologist Bryan Fry from the University of Queensland in Australia.
Fry and a colleague were conducting research into sea snakes near a town called Weipa on Australia’s remote Cape York Peninsula and made the find accidentally.
“Bandy-bandy is a burrowing snake, so Freek Vonk from the Naturalis Museum and I were surprised to find it on a concrete block by the sea,” he explains.
“We later discovered that the snake had slithered over from a pile of bauxite rubble waiting to be loaded onto a ship.”
Further exploration produced two more specimens – one in native vegetation just outside Weipa, and the other dead on the road.
Analysis revealed that the three snakes were genetically distinct from all other known species of bandy-bandy. The discovery and formal description are presented in the journal Zootaxa.
Fry says the new species may be endangered, because its habitat is being strongly impacted by mining.
“Bauxite mining is a major economic activity in the region, and it may be reshaping the environment to the detriment of native plants and animals,” Fry explains.
“The discovery of this enigmatic little snake is symptomatic of the much more fundamental problem of how little we know about our biodiversity and how much may be lost before we even discover it.”