June 17, 2024

Just what Australia needed – a new venomous snake, and it’s fast

A new venomous whipsnake, though an old one that no one had noticed before, was dropped, mistaking it for a familiar species. desert whip snake (Cyanochasma of Dementia) It has been scientifically distinguished from other whip snakes for the first time. If you’re thinking this is another reason not to visit Australia, or at least its deserts, note that the bite is painful to humans but deadly to its prey, which are mostly lizards.

Venomous snakes are an Australian type of thing. It is a myth that nine of the ten deadliest species live on the continent, but there is no doubt that many members of the order Squamata have made niches due to the different and changing climates. Australia has more species of reptiles than anywhere else in the world, and most have found some form of poison as a useful tool in their arsenal, either to subdue their prey or ward off threats.

The whip snake genus, scientifically known dementia, are not very famous, but they are the most diverse of the Australian land elapids – the family that includes the most venomous snakes. Number of dementia species were not recognized most of the time since colonization, but about 20 years ago herpetologists realized that what they thought were only a few species were actually quite a lot.

Although the genus was expanded to 14 at that time, the debate continued as to whether two of the snakes defined at the time were true species, or subspecies of others. James Nankivell The University of Adelaide led a team that decided, in their words, to “hijack the gene into shape” by combining genetic testing with more traditional methods.

They re-described two existing species, D. psamophis and D. reticulata, to better match the genetic data, and in the process discovered D. cyanochism genetically different from other whipsnakes.

Newly discovered species are usually rare, and often endangered, but D. cyanochism quite widespread and relatively common. Nankivell told IFLScience that it had been missed until now partly because it lives in such rare areas of Australia, but also because it is so difficult to distinguish by sight. “Some D. reticulata have heads and tails of copper as cynicism,” said Nankivell. “It just seems like an adaptive trait in a reddish landscape.”

Among some snake families, closely related species can be differentiated by their number of scales, but Nankivell said “whip snakes are pretty conservative” in that regard.

To tell D. cyanochism from some of his relatives by sight you must look for the size of the black edges on the scales or the colors around the eyes. Few people want to get close enough to a venomous snake to do so, and they find it difficult even if you try. D distanceism very fast and, according to Nankivell, “used his speed as a primary defense.” They prefer to run away rather than attack anything bigger than them.

Although not much is known about it D. cyanochasma’s venom, its relatives are known to be painful rather than dangerous. Nankivell attributes this to small amounts of venom and the toxins having evolved to target reptiles over mammals.

Nankivell thinks that prey can also explain Dementia diversity. With so many species of lizard in Australia the snakes can specialize, with up to six or seven species of whip snakes overlapping in the same territory.

Mark Hutchinson, one of Nankivell’s co-authors, recently used the same genetic techniques to describe four new species of sand dragonsfurther emphasizing the abundance of Australian lizards.

There is a scientific description of the D. cyanochism published i Zootaxa.

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