EXPERTS have identified a new species of snake found in the Star Mountains of Papua New Guinea’s Western Province, but are yet to see the animal in the wild.
The snake, known by its Latin name Toxicocalamus Ernstmayri, was identified by snake expert Mark O’Shea when he was visiting the Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) at Harvard University, in the United States.
Since being collected by former PNG Patrol officer Fred Parker at Wangbin in the North Fly region in 1969, the sample Dr O’Shea used to identify the species had sat among the university’s collection for 40 years after arriving in 1975.
Dr O’Shea and Mr Parker, together with Hinrich Kaiser, wrote in a paper published in the Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology that the snake had been misidentified as a Micropechis Ikaheka – more commonly known as the New Guinea small-eyed snake.
But the specimen at the MCZ lacked a temporolabial scale between the fifth and sixth supralabials, common in other snakes from the area.
It had a shorter tail than the New Guinea small-eyed snake and smaller eyes than the similar Pseudonaja Textilis.
Dr O’Shea only identified the sample, a female measuring 1.1 metres long, as a new species when visiting the MCZ in May 2014 – while on a study tour supported by Harvard through its Ernst Mayr Travel Grant program.
Toxicocalamus Ernstmayri is believed to be venomous, active during the day and to live either on the ground or be adapted to digging.
They are also understood to lay eggs – between one and eight at a time, and to feed on earthworms – with the paper noting a large earthworm had been found in the stomach of the sample specimen.
The snake’s namesake, Ernst Mayr, spent time in what was then New Guinea in the 1920s collecting and surveying previously unknown species of birds and orchids. He was also a former director of the MCZ.