New Venomous Snake Species Discovered in Jar at Harvard University

Posted on August 24, 2015

Toxicocalamus ernstmayri

A new highly venomous worm-eating snake species has been discovered on a shelf at Harvard University. The snake specimen was discovered by snake expert Mark O'Shea. The snake was found in Papau New Guinea in 1969, over forty years ago.

The Birmingham Mail reports that O'Shea found the specimen in a wrongly labeled jar on a shelf at Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ). It was misidentified as Micropechis ikaheka. The specimen had been killed by a villager in central New Guinea's Star Mountains. The species has been named Toxicocalamus ernstmayri after German biologist Ernst Mayr.

The new species is the largest known member of the Toxicocalamus genus. The female specimen is 3 feet 7 inches long. The snake feeds only on large worms.

O'Shea told the Birmingham Mail, "It all goes to prove you can find new species in the wild and also in the world's museums, you just need to know what you are looking at."

A research paper on the new species was published in Harvard's Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology can be found online here (PDF).

Photo: Harvard University