For centuries, a highly venomous snake has managed to slither under the scientific radar in the Australian bush.
Now, scientists have finally identified the new species of death adder, Acanthophis cryptamydros, which lives in the northwestern corner of the continent.“It was a huge surprise. We weren’t even looking for a new species. I redid my work to make sure I hadn’t made a mistake,” says study leader Simon Maddock, a Ph.D. student in a joint program at University College London and the Natural History Museum, London.The newfound species is 20 inches (51 centimeters) long and, like many other death adders, has a light reddish-brown color.
Maddock made his discovery not by trekking through the Australian outback but by studying the DNA of various death adders, a group of snakes native to Australia, New Guinea, and Indonesia that are among the world’s most venomous.
Hiding in Plain Sight
Many of the approximately eight species of death adder—there’s some controversy about exactly how many species exist—are hard to tell apart, since individuals of the same species can sport remarkably different colors and patterns.
The newfound death adder “looks a lot like the northern death adder, A. rugosus, and that’s probably why no one discovered it until now,” Maddock notes.