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Australia discovers a new venomous snake, but it's in danger

Scientists hope this bandy-bandy snake won't be lost to hisstory.

This new species of bandy-bandy snake may be threatened already.

Freek Vonk

Australia has just added a new venomous creature to its roster. A newly discovered bandy-bandy snake named Vermicella parscauda joins an illustrious roll call that includes funnel web spiders and box jellyfish. 

In a twist on the script, the snake may be in much more danger from humans than we are from it.

Researchers from the University of Queensland found the small nocturnal burrowing snake along the western coast of the Cape York Peninsula. The snake had wriggled out from a pile of bauxite rubble that was set to be loaded onto a ship. The snake looked different from other bandy-bandies and proved to be genetically distinct as well.

The biologists traced the snake's origins to near the mining town of Weipa in Queensland and have now uncovered five observations of the snake in its natural habitat and in museum collections. The university says the reptile "may already be in danger of extinction due to mining."

"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 University of Queensland biologist Bryan Fry.

Researchers have been studying snake venom as a source for 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," says Fry.

While bandy-bandy snakes are venomous, they don't pose a big threat to people. "The venom of this species is poorly known. One case of snake-bite with moderately severe local symptoms has been reported," says the Queensland Museum.

The researchers published a description of the new snake species in the journal Zootaxa on Monday.

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