February 2021 Biodiversity Spotlight


Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Weinell, University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum

We often hear about the discoveries housed in natural history collections just waiting to be found and the recent story about the tiny, iridescent burrowing snake featured by the Florida Museum is a perfect example. Several Waray dwarf burrowing snake specimens were "hiding" at the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum misidentified as other small, burrowing snakes. Jeffrey Weinell, a graduate research assistant, decided to take a closer look at the specimen's genetics as well as internal anatomy via CT scanning through a collaboration with Daniel Paluh at the Florida Museum as part of the oVert project. Based on these new sets of data Wienell and his collaborators determined that these specimens belong to a new genus and species, Levitonius mirus.

Rafe Brown, professor and Curator of Herpetology at University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute and Natural History, said it best in this quote from the Florida Museum's press release: "In this case, the trained ‘expert field biologists’ misidentified specimens – and we did so repeatedly, over years – failing to recognize the significance of our finds, which were preserved and assumed to be somewhat unremarkable, nondescript juveniles of common snakes,” Brown said. “This happens a lot in the real world of biodiversity discovery. It’s a good thing we have biodiversity repositories and take our specimen-care oaths seriously.”

To read more about this discovery, and about the importance of both collections and conservation efforts check out the Florida Museum piece found here:  https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/science/new-iridescent-snake-from-philippines/