Photo in the News: "Chameleon" Snake Found in Borneo Forest

Color-changing snake photo
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June 27, 2006—A newfound species of poisonous snake might have developed an unusual way to keep enemies at bay—by spontaneously changing its skin color.

The slightly iridescent serpent, pictured above, was discovered in the Indonesian section of the island of Borneo (map of Indonesia), the international conservation organization WWF announced today. A WWF team found the snake during a 2003 survey of the island's reptile diversity.

"I put the reddish-brown snake in a dark bucket," Mark Auliya, a German reptile expert and WWF consultant, said in a press release. "When I retrieved it a few minutes later, it was almost entirely white."

Auliya found the 1.6-foot-long (0.5-meter-long) snake in wetlands and swamps near the Kapuas River in Borneo's Betung Kerihun National Park. His team named it the Kapuas mud snake, and the scientists believe it exists only in the river's drainage areas.

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

A handful of other reptiles are known to be able to rapidly change their pigmentation (photo: chameleon color change), and the trait has been documented as a defense mechanism in some snakes. The researchers don't yet know how or why the new snake species makes the change, but they speculate it could be a warning behavior.

—Victoria Gilman

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