Friday, August 28, 2015

A new death adder: Acanthophis cryptamydros

Death Adders are found mainly in Australia and also New Guinea. These animals belong to the deadliest snakes in the world. Their venom is a postsynaptic neurotoxin which causes muscle weakness and paralysis. Before the introduction of antivenom, about 60% of bites to humans were fatal.

Death adders hunt in a very unique manner. Rather than the aggressive stalking other snakes display, they will camouflage themselves in foliage and secretly lie in wait for prey to approach. This can often take hours, or even days. As they wait, they dance their tail around their hidden head as a lure, hoping to catch the interest of any creatures nearby. This tendency to wait and hide makes the a death adder particularly dangerous; if encountered by a human, the snake will likely stay in where it is. Most snakes will attempt to hide if they hear a human approaching. This makes it very easy to unknowingly step on one hidden beneath the brush. Additionally, if provoked, the death adder will give chase. They are also terrific swimmers, and won’t hesitate to traverse right through the water to get to their prey.

The new species name (Acanthophis cryptamydros) is modified from the Greek words kryptos (cryptic, hidden) and amydros (indistinct, dim) in reference to the cryptic nature of the species and its indistinct appearance relative to its surroundings making its presence unknown to predators and prey.

For the experts: Australian death adders (genus Acanthophis) are highly venomous snakes with conservative morphology and sit-and-wait predatory habits, with only moderate taxonomic diversity that nevertheless remains incompletely understood. Analyses of mitochondrial and nuclear gene sequences and morphological characteristics of death adders in northern Australia reveal the existence of a new species from the Kimberley region of Western Australia and the Northern Territory, which we describe as Acanthophis cryptamydros sp. nov. Although populations from the Kimberley were previously considered conspecific with Northern Territory death adders of the A. rugosus complex, our mtDNA analysis indicates that its closest relatives are desert death adders, A. pyrrhus. We found that A. cryptamydros sp. nov. is distinct in both mtDNA and nDNA analysis, and possesses multiple morphological characteristics that allow it to be distinguished from all other Acanthophis species. This study further supports the Kimberley region as an area with high endemic biodiversity. 

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