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article image'Hiding in plain sight' - New venomous snake found in Australia

By Karen Graham     Sep 29, 2015 in Environment
Scientists recently announced the discovery of a new species of venomous snake, the Kimberley death adder, so named for the remote region in Australia where it makes its home. What is unusual is the reptile has been hiding out there in plain sight.
The Kimberley death adder, or Acanthophis cryptamydros, measures roughly 50 cm long (20 inches). Like many death adders, its coloration tends toward a light, reddish-brown color. Like its kin, it is an ambush predator using a sit and wait method of hunting.
While camouflaging itself, it will quietly and patiently wait, dangling its tail like a fishing lure, until an unsuspecting lizard or other small creature comes close. Study leader Simon Maddock, a Ph.D. student in a joint program at University College London and the Natural History Museum, London, said the discovery was a big surprise.
These snakes are super-camouflaged -- its idea is to look like a rock or a bunch of leaves.
These snakes are super-camouflaged -- its idea is to look like a rock or a bunch of leaves.
Snake Charmer
“It was a huge surprise. We weren’t even looking for a new species. I redid my work to make sure I hadn’t made a mistake," Maddock was quoted as saying by National Geographic.
Paul Doughty, curator of herpetology at the Western Australian Museum and one of the researchers involved in the study, said in a statement he was surprised to find the Kimberley death adder is more closely related to the desert death adders found in the region.
Doughty told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation it has been long assumed the Kimberly death adder was an example of the well-known northern death adder. But he said a student, Simon Maddock from Bangor University in the UK, made the discovery while comparing genetic material from different species.
The Kimberley death adder closely resembles Acanthophis praelongus  the northern death adder.
The Kimberley death adder closely resembles Acanthophis praelongus, the northern death adder.
He added, "To our surprise, the snakes from the Kimberley turned out to be more closely related to desert death adders and the Pilbara death adder." After looking at additional specimens in museums, Doughty said, "That was sort of the protracted eureka experience, which is often the case with these biological discoveries."
The Kimberley death adder is considered to be a very rare species, with only a few having been seen in the wild. Doughty says he has only seen one, himself, in the wild. He adds though, "they do pack a punch." The Kimberley is not a fast snake, like the brown snake. Being short and muscular, "They're very accurate strikers because their whole thing in life is to sit there and say to the world, 'I'm invisible, I'm not really here'."
Australia's unique flora and fauna
Australia's incredibly unique flora and fauna comes from its past geological history when millions of years ago, the continent was split off from the rest of the world's land masses. This event allowed plants and animals to establish populations and evolve in their own way to suit the environment, all without any outside influence.
Almost all, but not quite all of Australia's mammals are marsupials, giving birth to live young, and then carrying them in pouches near the belly until they are strong enough to survive on their own. Another mammal indigenous to Australia is the monotreme. These mammals lay eggs rather than give birth to live young. There are only two known monotremes in the world today, the platypus and the echidna, and they both are found in Australia.
Australia is also home to over 24,000 species of identified native plants. Just imagine the numbers, and then realize that England has about 1,700 native plants. The point is simple. Such a vast continent still has treasures to be found, not only in as yet unnamed species of flora and fauna but especially in species of reptiles.
This interesting study was published in Zootaxa recently, under the title: A new species of death adder (Acanthophis: Serpentes: Elapidae) from north-western Australia
More about new death adder, hiding in plain sight, kimberley death adder, ambush predator, Rare species
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