New snake identified in museum

Researcher Jeff Weinell holds the Waray Dwarf Burrowing Snake specimen that he and his colleagues described as a new species. Credit: University of Kansas

Using genetics and molecular analysis, researchers discovered a new snake species in a museum collection in Kansas. Native to the islands of Samar and Leyte in the Philippines, specimens of the newly described Waray dwarf burrowing snake (Levitonius mirus) were collected in 2006 and 2007 and preserved at the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum. When University of Kansas graduate researcher Jeff Weinell decided to look at the snakes’ genetics using molecular analysis, he found they had been misidentified. “I knew this other group of small, burrowing snakes called Pseudorabdion — there are quite a few species in the Philippines — and I was interested in understanding the relationships among those snakes,” Weinell said in a press release. “So, I made a list of all the specimens we had in the museum of that group, and I started sequencing DNA for the tissues that were available.” He and his co-authors were surprised by their findings. The snake didn’t fall in the Pseudorabdion family. After further research, they determined the species hadn’t been documented before. They named it after Alan Leviton, a snake researcher at the California Academy of Sciences.

Read the paper in Copeia.