'Chameleon' snake discovered

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The Independent Online

Scientists working in the forests of Borneo have discovered a previously unknown type of snake which can spontaneously change its colour in order to blend in with its surroundings, the Worldwide Fund for Nature has announced.

The venomous snake, about half a metre long, is capable of changing its scales from red to white within minutes, according to the German researcher who found it in the wetlands and swamp forests of Betung National Park in the Indonesian part of the island.

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

Dr Auliya, who was working with two American scientists, named the creature the Kapuas mud snake, after the river that flows through the region.

The genus Enhydris, to which the snake belongs, is composed of 22 species, only two of which are widespread. The scientists believe the snake may occur only in the Kapuas river area.

The ability to change colour is extremely rare in snakes. "The discovery of the 'chameleon' snake exposes one of nature's best kept secrets," said Stuart Chapman, the WWF's international co-ordinator of the Heart of Borneo programme. "Its ability to change colour has kept it hidden from science until now. I guess it just picked the wrong colour that day."