Color-changing chameleon snake discovered in jungles of Borneo
Color-changing chameleon snake discovered in jungles of Borneo
Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com
June 27, 2006
Scientists discovered a species of snake capable of changing colors. The snake, called the Kapuas mud snake, resides in the rainforest on the island of Borneo, an ecosystem that is increasingly threatened by logging and agricultural development.
The “chameleon snake” was discovered by Dr. Mark Auliya, a German researcher who described it with the help of two American scientists. Dr. Auliya collected two specimens of the half-meter (1.6-foot) long poisonous snake in the swampy forests near the Kapuas river in the Betung Kerihun National Park in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo).
“I put the reddish-brown snake in a dark bucket. When I retrieved it a few minutes later, it was almost entirely white,” Dr. Auliya said.
Many lizards are known to change color to match their surrounding or express emotion, but the Kapuas mud snake is a rare find — few snakes are known to have the ability and scientists have yet to study color-changing mechanisms in these legless reptiles.
True chameleons, lizards found in continental Africa and Madagascar, change colors using two layers of specialized cells that lie just beneath the lizard’s transparent outer skin. The cells in the upper layer are responsible for yellow and red colors, while the second cell layer reflect blue light. Working in conjunction, these cells can influence the apparent color of the lizard.
The Kapuas mud snake Enhydris gyii, recently discovered in Kalimantan. Image: WWF-Germany/Mark Auliya
Regardless of how the Kapuas mud snake actually changes color, the find is an important one for conservation in Borneo, where some 361 new species of animals were discovered between 1994 and 2004.
“The discovery of the ‘chameleon’ snake exposes one of nature’s best kept secrets deep in the Heart of Borneo,” said Stuart Chapman, international coordinator of the Heart of Borneo initiative for WWF, a leading conservation group.
“Its ability to change color has kept it hidden from science until now. I guess it just picked the wrong color that day.”
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