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Australian scientists find a new species of venomous snake

Stephanie Bedo, July 19, 2018 7:00PM News Corp Australia

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Vermicella Parscauda Bandy Bandy snake near Weipa, Queensland. Picture: AAP media_cameraVermicella Parscauda Bandy Bandy snake near Weipa, Queensland. Picture: AAP

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Scientists  have found a new venomous* snake species for Australia.

The biologists*, led by The University of Queensland’s Associate Professor Bryan Fry, unexpectedly discovered a new species of bandy-bandy snake at Weipa on the west coast of the Cape York Peninsula in far north Queensland.

Prof Fry said bandy-bandies were burrowing snakes so they were surprised when they found it on a concrete block by the sea, after coming in from a night of sea snake spotting.

“We later discovered that the snake had slithered over from a pile of bauxite* rubble waiting to be loaded onto a ship,” he said.

The snake had slithered from a pile of bauxite at this mine at Weipa, Qld. Picture: News Corp Australia
media_cameraThe snake had slithered from a pile of bauxite at this mine at Weipa, Qld. Picture: News Corp Australia

“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 another killed by a car close to the mine.

They then looked carefully at snakes kept in museum collections, where they found two more. They also found a photo of another, which made a total of six observations* in the same small area.

The scientists have given the snake the scientific name Vermicella Parscauda.

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 region, and it may be reshaping the environment to the detriment* of native plants and animals,” he said.

University of Queensland biologist Bryan Fry, who studies venom, pictured here with a komodo dragon. Picture: supplied
media_cameraUniversity of Queensland biologist Bryan Fry, who studies venom, pictured here with a komodo dragon. Picture: supplied

“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 come from.

He said their discovery shows how little we know about Australia’s plants and animals and how much may be lost before it is even discovered.

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GLOSSARY

venomous: poisonous

biologists: scientists who study plants and animals

bauxite: a mineral mined to make aluminium

genetically distinct: genes are different

interior: inland from the coast

specimen: example or sample

observations: what they saw

economic: to do with money

detriment: being harmed

documenting: recording

compounds: mixes of substances

medications: medicines

LISTEN TO TODAY’S STORY

QUICK QUIZ

1. What is a biologist?

2. What type of snake did they find?

3. What is one activity that may be endangering this species?

4. What is venom used for?

5. What does this discovery show about what we know and don’t know?

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES

1. Consider the following questions and write your answers as short paragraphs.

Why is it important to learn about the different species of plants and animals that are native to Australia? Use information from the article to help you get started. You may think of more reasons of your own.

What concern does Professor Bryan Fry have about this species and other species of Australian plants and animals? Why does he hold such concerns?

Time: Allow 20 minutes

Curriculum links: English, Science

2. Extension: Find out more about the bandy-bandy snake. Create a fact file of this snake. Include: physical characteristics, natural habitat and distribution, diet, threats to and from this species and any other interesting information. Include a picture or diagram of the snake.

Time: Allow 30 minutes

Curriculum links: English, Science

Extra Resources: Further information on the bandy-bandy snake

VCOP ACTIVITY

After reading the article, with a partner, highlight as many connectives as you can find in pink. Discuss if these are being used as conjunctions, or to join ideas and create flow.

QUESTION: What can people do to prevent snakes and any other species of animals or plants becoming extinct?
Explain your ideas in full sentences.

Extra Reading in animals