PAPUA NEW GUINEA 2006

 

AVRU Serpentarium
haus bilong snek
Port Moresby, NCD

 

The AVRU Serpentarium, or haus bilong snek in Tok Pisin, is located in a building belonging to the UPNG Dept of Medicine on the Taurama Campus behind Port Moresby General Hospital (PMNG). It was established by David Williams, an AVRU researcher with 10 years experience in Papua New Guinea.

The unprepossing AVRU "snek haus".

AVRU is the Australian Venom Research Unit based in the Dept of Pharmacology at the University of Melbourne. They have several overseas research fellows including Dr Wolfgang Wüster, an herpetologist and snake phylogeneticist at the University of Wales, Bangor, and Dr Simon Jensen, an emergency consultant and snakebite specialist, and myself.

The Serpentarium holds a collection of medically important venomous snakes collected from around Papua New Guinea for the purposes of venom extraction. The main species held are Papuan taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus canni) and Smooth-scaled death adder (Acanthophis laevis).

A single New Guinea brownsnake (Pseudonaja textilis) was captured by American herpetologist Chris Austin on the northern coast of Milne Bay Province and donated to the AVRU project. As the first specimen collected since the 1960s and the only one available for venom and DNA analysis it was of particular interest to AVRU researchers attempting to determine the relationships of New Guinea brownsnakes with their much better known Australian relatives.

The Milne Bay brownsnake was tubed for safety and then caudal blood was taken, with venom extracted from the tiny fangs using a pipetting tube. Brownsnakes deliver small qiuantities of extremely toxic venom.

New Guinea brownsnake, Pseudonaja textilis captured in northern Milne Bay Prov., PNG
Dave and Wolfgang tube the brownsnake. Wolfgang takes blood for DNA from the caudal vein.
Taking blood from the caudal vein.
Pipetting venom from one fang at a time.

Within the AVRU Serpentarium a female New Guinea small-eyed (Micropechis ikaheka) snake laid five eggs which were incubated.

New Guinea small-eyed snake, Micropechis ikaheka laying eggs.

The entire snake collection is cared for by the snake room technician Jasper Gabugabu. His duties include maintenance of the rat breeding facility for feeding the venomous snakes in his care ranging from taipan to death adders.

Jasper Gabugabu,
AVRU-UPNG snake room technician,
in the rat breeding room.

 

Smooth-scaled death adders, Acanthophis laevis in the Serpentarium
left & centre: Karkar Is., Madang Prov.; right: Malalaua, Gulf Prov.