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Mark O'Shea Discovers New Guinea Worm Eating Snake At Harvard University

The snake sat mislabeled at Harvard University for more than 40 years.

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Mark O'Shea has discovered a new species of worm eating snake, not in the field, but at Harvard University’s reptile collection. The New Guinea worm-eating snake was mislabeled in a specimen jar at the university when O'Shea found it during a research trip to Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology.

Information on Mark O'Shea 

Herps Of Papua New Guinea


King Cobra Bites Snake Handler Mark O'Shea

The New Guinea Small-Eyed Snake

It hailed from Papua New Guinea, specifically from the Star Mountains, where it was found and killed by a villager in 1969.  

The snake, which O'Shea named Toxicocalamus ernstmayri in honor of German biologist Ernst Mayr, was highly venomous and fed mostly on worms. The snake at Harvard is the only known specimen in existence and is a female that measured about 3 feet in length. It is not known if the snake can still be found in the wild. The snake that it was initially thought to have been was the venomous New Guinea small-eyed snake, Micropechis ikaheka. It remained labeled as such until O'Shea made his discovery.

The full paper can be read on the Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology website.


John B. Virata keeps a western hognose snake, a ball python, two corn snakes, a king snake, and two leopard geckos. His first snake, a California kingsnake, was purchased for $5. His first pet reptile was a green anole that arrived in a small box via mail order. Follow him on Twitter @johnvirata