- Biologists discovered a new species of bandy-bandy snake at Weipa on the west coast of the Cape York Peninsula.
- However, the new venomous snake may already be in danger of extinction due to nearby mining.
- The researchers from the University of Queensland say venoms are rich sources of compounds that can be used to develop new medications.
Australia has just added another venomous snake to its list of dangerous creatures.
A team of biologists led by The University of Queensland’s Associate Professor Bryan Fry discovered the bandy-bandy snake at Weipa on the west coast of the Cape York Peninsula.
“Bandy-bandies are burrowing snakes, so Freek Vonk from the Naturalis Museum and I were surprised when we found it on a concrete block by the sea, after coming in from a night of sea snake spotting,” Professor Fry says.
“We later discovered that the snake had slithered over from a pile of bauxite rubble waiting to be loaded onto a ship.”
On examination by student Chantelle Derez, the bandy-bandy turned out to be a new species, visually and genetically distinct from those found on the Australian East coast and parts of the interior.
The team found another specimen in its natural habitat near Weipa and another killed by a car close to the mine.
Two more specimens were found in museum collections and a photo was found of another, contributing to a tally of six observations in the same small area.
However, the researchers fear the new species could be in trouble.
“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,” Professor Fry says.
“The importance of such discoveries goes beyond simply documenting what is out there, as venoms are rich sources of compounds that can be used to develop new medications.
“Every species is precious and we need to protect them all, since we can’t predict where the next wonder-drug will come from.
“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.”
Fry’s Weipa bandy-bandy research is published in the journal Zootaxa.