A new study published in the journal Zootaxa hails the discovery of an interesting species of venomous snake living in Australia.
The newfound species belongs to the genus Vermicella, also known as bandy-bandy snakes — small, burrowing serpents that only grow to be 1.6 to 3.2 feet long (between 50 and 100 centimeters) and are easily recognizable by the black and white rings adorning their bodies.
Colloquially called hoop snakes, these mildly venomous reptiles are endemic to Australia and prey on other snakes, having evolved to target specifically the blind snakes of the Typhlopidae family.
The new species has been dubbed Vermicella parscauda and is now the fifth recognized species of bandy-bandies, among which the most widespread is Vermicella annulate (imaged above), note the study authors.
The discovery was made by a group of researchers led by biologist Bryan Fry, an associate professor at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.
According to Science Daily, the finding of this new venomous snake was completely serendipitous, as the team simply happened to cross paths with one specimen while researching sea snakes 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,” Prof. Fry said in a statement issued by the university.
The puzzling behavior of the Vermicella parscauda that ventured out into the open prompted the team to investigate what was going on.
“We later discovered that the snake had slithered over from a pile of bauxite rubble waiting to be loaded onto a ship,” Fry explained.
Only Six Specimens Spotted So Far
Since that first encounter with the Vermicella parscauda, which occurred in the mining town of Weipa, located on the peninsula’s Gulf of Carpentaria coast, the enigmatic snake was spotted five other times, and not in the happiest of circumstances.
Two specimens were seen close by — one in its natural environment, which lies outside the town’s borders, and one on a road nearby the mine. It was found after it had been killed by a car.
Another two sightings happened in museum collections, while the final specimen was only seen in a photograph, detail the sources.
A close look at Vermicella parscauda‘s physical features, doubled by DNA analysis, established the snake as a new bandy-bandy species, more closely related to the species from Western Australia and the Northern Territory (V. intermedia and V. multifasciata) than with the V. annulate of the Australia East coast and of Cape York.
But the puzzling thing about the recently discovered bandy-bandy is that it has internasal scales just like V. annulate, although this feature is completely absent in its closely related cousins.
Already In Danger
While Vermicella parscauda is intriguing to say the least, its discoverers fear that it may already be threatened with extinction, particularly due to mining activities in the area.
“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.
As he pointed out, each new species of venomous snake that we come across is significant in more ways than one. Aside from being a testament to biodiversity, these species contribute to the development of new medications, which harness the amazing properties of snake venom.
“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 concluded.