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New species of snake discovered in Cape York

Published on 25th July 2018

A new snake species discovered in Weipa should be of no concern to locals, according to the woman who first recorded its existence.

Media around the world went into a frenzy last week when it was revealed that a new type of venomous snake was discovered in Weipa.

But Lauren Dibben says it’s highly unlikely that locals will ever see it in the wild and that it was not as dangerous as reports suggested.

The long-time Weipa resident and ecologist is known around town as the “snake catcher” and first came across the new species of snake in 2005, but did not know at the time it was an unrecorded species.

Ms Dibben said she believed at the time it was just a type of bandy-bandy snake.

She was correct, but this was a new species of bandy-bandy and has now been named Vermicella parscauda.

“Years ago I used to go out snake hunting to see what kind of critters were out there,” Ms Dibben said.

“I was using field guides to compare the snakes to what I was coming across.

“This one looked like (a bandy-bandy) but wasn’t exactly the same.

“As I got older and saw another one I took some photos and showed some people who thought it could be a new species.”

It wasn’t until four years ago that it was confirmed as a new species.

Scientists from the The University of Queensland were in Weipa to study sea snakes when they accidentally stumbled across the snake on the old boat ramp at Evans Landing.

The team, led by Associate Professor Bryan Fry, thought it looked unusual.

Professor Fry said the bandy-bandy 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.

“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.”

Ms Dibben collected a dead sample of the snake two years ago and now her submissions, including photographs, have been published in a paper confirming the new species.

“It’s pretty cool when you can discover a new species by accident,” Professor Fry said.