Scientists in Indonesia have discovered a new and mysterious species of snake in the depths of rain forest-clad Borneo which has the ability to change colours, the WWF conservation group said on Tuesday.
A WWF consultant and a German reptile expert in the wetlands along the Kapuas River in West Kalimantan collected the half-meter long snake, known locally as a 'mud snake', more than a year ago.
"It has since been established that it is really a new species," said WWF's Iwan Wibisono. "The peculiar thing with this snake, is that it can change colour. That is relatively rare among snakes." The feat, which some reptiles have mastered in order to evade predators, was discovered when the reptile experts put the reddish-brown snake into a pail and it turned white, he said.
He noted that the ability to morph colours was typically a defence mechanism among reptiles.
"But since the mud snake is poisonous, what purpose does the colour-changing ability serve?" asked Wibisono. Scientists are speculating that its camouflaging ability was linked instead to allowing it to catch food, he added.
The WWF and environmentalists have warned that rapid deforestation on Borneo, where vast tracts of rainforest still remain, threatens to destroy chances of discovering more undiscovered species harboured there.
Indonesia is losing at least 2.8 million hectares of its forests every year to illegal logging alone.