SCIENTISTS searching for sea snakes never expected to stumble across this find.
In a chance discovery, a team of biologists were returning from a sea snake research mission when they found a new venomous snake species for Australia.
The team, led The University of Queensland’s Associate Professor Bryan Fry, uncovered a new species of bandy-bandy snake at Weipa on the west coast of the Cape York Peninsula in the far north of the country.
Prof Fry said bandy-bandies were burrowing snakes so they were surprised they when found it on a concrete block near the sea edge, after coming in from a night of sea snake spotting.
“We later determined that the snake had slithered over from a pile of bauxite rubble waiting to be loaded onto a ship,” he said.
“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.”
The team found another specimen in its natural habitat near Weipa, and yet another killed by a car close to the mine.
Two more of the snakes were found in museum collections and a photo was found of another, contributing to a total of six observations in the same small region.
But Prof Fry said he feared the new species could already be in trouble and in danger of extinction due to mining.
“Bauxite mining is a major economic activity in the area, and it may be reshaping the environment to the detriment of our native plants and animals,” he 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.
“Every species is precious and we need to protect them all, since we can’t predict where the next wonder-drug will originate 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 forever before we even discover it.”
Associate Professor Bryan Fry looking for snakes near Weipa, Queensland.