A new species of venomous snake has been discovered in Queensland but scientists fear it may already be at risk of extinction.
The newest member of the Bandy Bandy snake family, named Vermicella Parscauda, has been found at Weipa on Cape York Peninsula, near Rio Tinto’s bauxite mining operations.
University of Queensland biologist Bryan Fry found the snake on a loading wharf, with the discovery detailed in a new paper published in the international journal Zootaxa.
“Just looking at it, we knew it was a new species immediately just because of how many bands it had,” Professor Fry has told AAP.
“It was right next to the big ship loader, where they are loading all the rocks and soil they’d scooped up during the bauxite mining.”
Other specimens were found during a subsequent search.
“They are living in the exact habitat that is being scooped up for bauxite mining,” he said.
Only six specimens of the new snake have been found.
Professor Fry believes they may only be living in the mining area, and that could mean trouble for the species.
“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.
“Every species is precious and we need to protect them all, since we can’t predict where the next wonder drug will come from.”
Modified snake toxins are already used in pharmaceutical products, including the blood pressure medication Captopril, which generates $10 billion in sales each year.
The new snake species is about 30-40cm long, and features thin white bands, and fatter black bands along its body.
There are now five recognised species of the Bandy Bandy genus, all in Australia.