AboutZoos, Since 2008


Iden­ti­cal deadly sea snakes prove to be dif­fer­ent species

pub­lished 20 Novem­ber 2012 | mod­i­fied 04 Decem­ber 2012
Beaked sea snakeSci­en­tists have dis­cov­ered that the lethal beaked sea snake is actu­ally two species with sep­a­rate evo­lu­tions, which resulted in iden­ti­cal snakes. This find­ing was made avail­able online (sta­tus in press) on Octo­ber 5 in the jour­nal Mol­e­c­u­lar Phy­lo­ge­net­ics & Evo­lu­tion.

Co-​author, Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor Bryan Fry from the Uni­ver­sity of Queens­land said the Aus­tralian and Asian beaked sea snakes 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 mix up could have been med­ically cat­a­strophic, since the CSL* sea snake antivenom is made using the venom from the Asian snake based on the assump­tion that it was the same species. 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
(Bryan Fry)

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. Fry added that the ‘beaked’ mor­phol­ogy 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 fish­er­men han­dling nets in these habi­tats.

The Asian snake will retain the orig­i­nal name Enhy­d­rina shis­tosa. The Aus­tralian beaked sea snake has been given the sci­en­tific name Enhy­d­rina zweifeli, which iden­ti­fies the region in New Guinea where it is found. The new snake will be placed in a sep­a­rate genus to the true Enhy­d­rina genus in a follow-​up pub­li­ca­tion that will resolve the com­plex higher order rela­tion­ships of sea snakes.

* CSL: CSL Bio­ther­a­pies, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at The Uni­ver­sity of Queens­land, Aus­tralia. Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and length.
(Source: UQ News, 19.11.2012)
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