Site icon Conservation news

Color-changing chameleon snake discovered in jungles of Borneo

Color-changing chameleon snake discovered in jungles of Borneo

Color-changing chameleon snake discovered in jungles of Borneo
Rhett A. Butler,
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.”

WWF has warned that Borneo’s forest cover has declined rapidly since the 1980s, but the organization is working with the three governments — Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia and Malaysia — that control Borneo to ensure that its forest ecosystems are protected in the future.

Related articles

In search of Bigfoot, scientists may uncover unknown biodiversity in Malaysia. Malaysian scientists are scouring the rainforests of Johor state in search of the legendary ape-man Bigfoot, supposedly sighted late last year. But they are more likely to encounter some less fantastic but unique creatures that dwell in these still unexplored ecosystems.

Saving Orangutans in Borneo. I’m in Tanjung Puting National Park in southern Kalimantan on the island of Borneo. At 400,000 hectares (988,000 acres) Tanjung Puting is the largest protected expanse of coastal tropical heath and peat swamp forest in southeast Asia. It’s also one of the biggest remaining habitats for the critically endangered orangutan, the population of which has been great diminished in recent years due to habitat destruction and poaching. Orangutans have become the focus of a much wider effort to save Borneo’s natural environment.

Malaysia to phase out Borneo logging in parts of Sabah state. The Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo announced it will phase out logging in large parts of its remaining rainforests. Sabah, once home to some of the world’s most biodiverse forests, was largely logged out during the 1980s and 1990s but some parts of the state still support wild populations of endangered orangutans. In recent years, the Malaysian government has set aside protected areas and sponsored reforestation projects in the state.

Why is palm oil replacing tropical rainforests?
Recently much has been made about the conversion of Asia’s biodiverse rainforests for oil-palm cultivation. Environmental organizations have warned that by eating foods that use palm oil as an ingredient, Western consumers are directly fueling the destruction of orangutan habitat and sensitive ecosystems. So, why is it that oil-palm plantations now cover millions of hectares across Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand? Why has oil palm become the world’s number one fruit crop, trouncing its nearest competitor, the humble banana?

Borneo rainforest to be protected; massive oil palm plantation canceled. Today Indonesia announced its would end plans to establish a 1.8 million hectare oil plantation in the rainforest of Borneo. The proposed plan, which was backed by Chinese investments, would have destroyed one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on Earth. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), some 361 species of animals have been discovered on the island in the past decade, including a mysterious fox-like creature spotted last year.

13 rare rhinos found in Borneo survey by WWF. World Wildlife Fund today released the results of a field survey from the island of Borneo which found that poaching has significantly reduced Borneo’s population of Sumatran rhinos, but a small group continues to survive in the “Heart of Borneo,” a region covered with vast tracts of rain forest.

Borneo’s disappearing forests. 361 new species discovered in past decade. Borneo, the third largest island in the world, was once covered with dense rainforests. With swampy coastal areas fringed with mangrove forests and a mountainous interior, much of the terrain was virtually impassable and unexplored. Headhunters ruled the remote parts of the island until a century ago.

Pictures of the Borneo rainforest., a leading rainforest information web site, has launched a new section featuring photographs from the island of Borneo. More than 500 photos from Kalimantan—the Indonesian part of the island—have been added to the site.

Anti-HIV drug from rainforest almost lost before its discovery. Rainforest plants have long been recognized for their potential to provide healing compounds. Indigenous peoples of the rainforest have used medicinal plants for treating a wide variety of health conditions while western pharmacologists have derived a number of drugs from such plants. However, as forests around the world continue to fall — the Amazon alone has lost more than 200,000 miles of forest since the 1970s — there is a real risk that pharmaceutically-useful plants will disappear before they are examined for their chemical properties. Increasingly, it is becoming a race against time to collect and screen plants before their native habitats are destroyed. One near miss occurred recently with a compound that has shown significant anti-HIV effects, Calanolide A.

Pictures from Gabon

Exit mobile version