Scientists discover a new species of snake hiding in plain sight

The newly identified Levitonius mirus, also known as Waray dwarf burrowing snake, is native to the islands of Samar and Leyte in the Philippines, an exceptionally biodiverse archipelago that includes at least 112 land snake species.

(CNN)Sometimes, looking at things we thought we knew with fresh eyes (and new tools) can lead to incredible discoveries.

That's what happened when Jeff Weinell, a graduate research assistant at the University of Kansas' Biodiversity Institute, found out that three specimens of snakes preserved in the institute's biodiversity collection, found in field missions between 2006 and 2012 and overlooked up to this point, belonged in a category of their own.
The three snake specimens are the only known members of a new snake genus, called Levitonius, and a new snake species, called Levitonius mirus.
    The findings by Weinell and colleagues, based on methods including DNA analysis and CT scans looking at the snakes' bone structure, were published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed journal Copeia.
    The newly identified Levitonius mirus, also known as Waray dwarf burrowing snake, is native to the islands of Samar and Leyte in the Philippines, an exceptionally biodiverse archipelago that includes at least 112 land snake species, according to the study.
    The snake has among the fewest number of vertebrae of any snake species in the world, according to the study, and has a long and narrow skull relative to its size, Weinell explained in a conversation with CNN. Its scales are highly iridescent, and it is likely that its diet is based on earthworms.
    Weinell emphasized the importance of collaboration between US-based scientists and scientists in the Philippines, furthering the understanding of biodiversity in the region.

    A serendipitous discovery