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Borneo's 'chameleon' snake shows its true colours

New species of colour-changing serpent

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Biologists in Borneo have discovered a new species of snake boasting chameleon-like, colour-changing abilities, Reuters reports.

The 50-cm venomous animal - a member of the Enhydris genus - was captured in the Indonesian Betung National Park's wetland and swamp forest area, and has been dubbed the Kapuas mud snake after the local river. Reptile hunter Mark Auliya told The Times: "I put the reddish-brown snake in a dark bucket. When I retrieved it a few minutes later, it was almost entirely white."

The WWF's Stuart Chapman added: "The discovery of the 'chameleon' snake exposes one of nature's best-kept secrets deep in the heart of Borneo. Its ability to change colour has kept it hidden from science until now. I guess it just picked the wrong colour that day."

Two specimens of Kapuas mud snake were recovered. Most other species of the 22-strong Enhydris genus have a very limited range, leading the biologists to suggest the latest club member "may not occur anywhere else except the Kapuas River drainage system". They further suspect its diet is made up of "rats, mice and possibly fish".

The WWF - which is backing conservation efforts in Borneo - confirmed it was rare for snakes to exhibit this "physiological colour change" ability, aka "pigment translocation".* ®

Bootnote

*Neither of these terms really do justice to this remarkable skill, so we've decided to dub it "chromo plasticity".

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