Deadly sea snake has a doppelganger

Nov 19, 2012
Deadly sea snake has a doppelganger
UQ researchers discover the Australian and Asian beaked sea snakes are two unrelated species despite the snakes identical appearances.

(Phys.org)—Scientists have discovered that the lethal beaked sea snake is actually two species with separate evolutions, which resulted in identical snakes.

The University of Queensland's Associate Professor Bryan Fry said the Australian and Asian beaked were originally thought to be from the same species, however, in comparing their DNA, the research team had found these two snakes were unrelated.

"This mixup could have been medically catastrophic, since the CSL sea snake antivenom is made using the from the Asian snake based on the assumption that it was the same species," Associate Professor Fry said.

"Luckily, the antivenom is not only very effective against the Australian new species but actually against all sea snakes since they all share a very stream-lined fish-specific venom."

Associate Professor Fry said the finding was an example of a situation where two species evolved separately but ended up looking similar, known as the convergent phenotypic evolution phenomenon.

Associate Professor Fry said that the 'beaked' of the species could be associated with the extremely specialised niche the snakes occupy, even though both species evolved from different ancestors and were not even close relatives.

He said the two species occupy the same specialised habitat of silt-filled shallows of tropical estuaries throughout the Asian and Australian regions.

These snakes are responsible for the majority of deaths and injuries to handling nets in these habitats.

The Asian snake will retain the original name Enhydrina shistosa.

Australian beaked sea snake has been given the scientific name [Enhydrina] zweifeli, which identifies the region in where it is found.

The new snake will be placed in a separate genus to the true Enhydrina in a followup publication that will resolve the complex higher order relationships of sea snakes.

This finding was published in Molecular Phylogenetics & Evolution by Associate Professor Fry from UQ's School of Biological Sciences and colleagues from the University of Adelaide.

Explore further: Research shows impact of BMR on brain size in fish

More information: www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1055790312003880

Related Stories

New species of sea snake discovered

Feb 21, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists have discovered a new species of sea snake in the Gulf of Carpenteria, northern Australia, which is unique in having raised scales.

New snake species found in a museum

Oct 25, 2012

Scandinavian scientists have discovered a new species of snake in a Copenhagen museum, which they have called the Mosaic sea snake, a Swedish university said on Thursday.

Recommended for you

Secret life of penguins revealed

1 hour ago

To mark World Penguin Day (25 April 2015) citizen science project Penguin Watch will release 500,000 new images of penguins and reveal secrets from a year of spying on penguins. ...

Research shows impact of BMR on brain size in fish

Apr 24, 2015

A commonly used term to describe nutritional needs and energy expenditure in humans – basal metabolic rate – could also be used to give insight into brain size of ocean fish, according to new research by Dr Teresa Iglesias ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.