A new species of venomous snake has been discovered in Australia and biologists say it is dangerously close to extinction.
The new species of bandy snake was found at Weipa on the west coast of the Cape York Peninsula by researchers with the University of Queensland.
Bryan Fry, an associate professor at the University of Queensland who lead the team of biologists, said that the discovery happened by chance.
“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,” Fry said. “We later discovered that the snake had slithered over from a pile of bauxite rubble waiting to be loaded onto a ship.”
The snake turned out to be genetically different than any other snake.
“On examination by my 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.”
Another specimen was found in its natural habitat near Weipa, and another was killed by a car close to the mine.
Five of the snakes were found in all.
Fry said the species is at risk due to local development.
“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,” said Fry.
Venom from the snake could be rich in compounds that could be used to discover new medications, Fry said.
“Every species is precious and we need to protect them all, since we can’t predict where the next wonder drug will come from, Fry said. “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.”