New sea snake species discovery in Australia

This video says about itself:

8 May 2014

In this exciting adventure, Jonathan travels to Manuk, a tiny, uninhabited volcanic island several hundred miles from the nearest populated island in Indonesia, on a mission to discover why the waters of this remote place are teeming with thousands of venomous sea snakes!

From the University of Queensland in Australia:

New species of sea snake discovered

February 21, 2012

( — Scientists have discovered a new species of sea snake in the Gulf of Carpenteria, northern Australia, which is unique in having raised scales.

The finding published in Zootaxa today by Associate Professor Bryan Fry from The University of Queensland’s (UQ) School of Biological Sciences and colleagues from The University of Adelaide, will provide important clues about evolution.

Associate Professor Fry said that Hydrophis donaldii had evaded earlier discovery as it prefers estuarine habitats that are poorly surveyed and not targeted by commercial fisheries.

“Weipa really is one of the last sea snake ‘Serengetis’. We can see over 200 sea snakes in a single night’s hunting, whereas sea snake populations have really crashed elsewhere through over-fishing removing their prey and also the snakes drowning in trawling nets,” Associate Professor Fry said.

Associate Professor Fry said the findings extend beyond simply discovering a rare animal.

“All venomous animals are bio-resources and have provided sources of many life-saving medications, such as treatments for high-blood pressure and diabetes.

“This reinforces why we need to conserve all of nature as the next billion dollar wonder-drug may come from as unlikely a source as sea snake venom.”

The snake has been given the scientific name Hydrophis donaldii to honour Associate Professor Fry’s long-time boat captain David Donald.

“Quite simply we would not have found this snake without Dave’s unique knowledge of the area. I told him we wanted to survey as many distinct types of habitat as possible and he guided us to the perfect spots,” Associate Professor Fry said.

The snake has been given the common-name ‘rough-scaled sea snake’ to reflect the unique scalation.

“We don’t know why it has been evolutionarily selected to have such unique scalation, but we will next study its ecology to learn more about it.”

More information: Paper preview: here. Full paper: here.

Australia is known for its dangerous snakes, and we have many, but in reality few people die from bites: here.

Unique Sea Snake Found in Museum: here.

6 thoughts on “New sea snake species discovery in Australia

  1. Australia’s sea snakes ‘at risk of extinction’

    Last Updated: Saturday, May 05, 2012, 12:38

    Melbourne: Australia’s sea snakes are at the risk of extinction, marine biologists have warned.

    A genetic study has revealed turtleheaded snakes rarely breed with individuals on other reefs in Australia, so if one population was wiped out, it’s unlikely to be “replenished” by neighbouring snakes.

    The biologists from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and the University of Sydney used genetic “fingerprinting” to show that this behaviour has resulted in significant genetic differentiation in populations of the sea snakes, Emydocephalus annulatus, living on adjacent reefs.

    These snakes occur in shallow water coral reef habitats from the Philippines to the Great Barrier Reef and from New Caledonia to north western Australia.

    “The genetic divergence we found confirms that snakes rarely travel to other locations to mate, regardless of the distance, and means that if one population were to decline or disappear, it is unlikely to be ‘replenished’ by neighbouring snakes, because snakes rarely move between reefs,” said lead researcher Dr Vimoksalehi Lukoschek in a release.

    Added co-researcher Prof Rick Shine: “For eight years, sea snakes on two reefs that are adjacent to each other in New Caledonia have been captured, tagged with a microchip device and released. In almost all instances, snakes were repeatedly re-captured on the same reef during summers and winters.”

    According to the marine biologists, the implications are that coral reef sea snakes are extremely vulnerable to disturbances in their local habitats, which could be caused by human activities or environmental changes.

    Dr Lukoschek said: “This is of great concern, given that some Australian populations of turtleheaded and other reef-associated sea snakes have undergone massive declines or local extinctions in recent years, particularly at Ashmore Reef in the Timor Sea, and also on some reefs in the southern Great Barrier Reef.”

    The findings have been published in the latest edition of the ‘Ecology and Evolution’ journal.


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