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Aipysurus mosaicus. Photo by Mahree-Dee White/Kristianstad University
Two Scandinavian scientists have discovered a new species of sea snake in a museum in Denmark, where the specimens sat in jars, mislabeled since the 1800s. They announced their discovery with a detailed paper in the journal Zootaxa.
Kristianstad University scientists Johan Elmberg of Sweden and Arne Rasmussen of Denmark were inspecting formalin filled jars of snakes at the Natural History Museum in Copenhagen when they came across a collection of jars labeled with the same species of snake but two of the jars with distinctly different snakes inside.
After comparing the sea snake with those found in other European museums, they determined that the snakes didn't even belong to the same group. They then worked with Kate Sanders, a molecular ecologist in Australia who compared DNA samples with similar sea snakes and found a different genetic composition of the mosaic sea snake, scientifically named Aipysurus mosaicus. The mildly venomous snake has a patterned skin that has a mosaic design, according to Elmberg. The snake also has small fangs and is unusual in that it feeds on fish eggs.
In the wild, the snake can be found along the coasts of northern Australia and southern New Guinea. Elmberg and Rasmussen have examined specimens of Aipysurus mosaicus from various regions in Australia, including the Coburg Peninsula, Gulf of Carpentaria, Thursday Island, Townsville, Swain Reefs and Shoal Water Bay, according to the paper. They also examined species from Kaap Valsch on the south coast of West Papua New Guinea. Their habitat includes offshore waters, estuaries and tidal rivers with soft sand and mud bottoms. Males grow to more than 2 feet in length while the females can grow to more than 3 feet in length.
A link to the complete paper can be found here in PDF format.