Throughout the year, the Australian Museum receives generous donations of biological specimens from a range of donors. These specimens help to grow and supplement the already existing natural science collections. Donors range from government departments and universities to members of the general public. The majority of these specimens are found dead as roadkill. With the growth in social media, a lot of these events are now being captured and shared to promote safety for animals and drivers when on the road. It’s within these forums that there appears to be a growing number of people calling for rare and interesting roadkill to be documented in the Australian Museum collections. We are very grateful for the help of these citizen scientists, as our small staff simply cannot be everywhere to record Australia’s biodiversity and its changes over time.
This year the Australian Museum Herpetology Department travelled nine hours to the Border Ranges, on the New South Wales and Queensland border, to collect a specimen of the threatened Stephen’s Banded Snake (Hoplocephalus stephensii) that had been hit by a car and died. Thanks to a local naturalist who recognised that the snake was unusual, the specimen was collected and kept frozen until our scientists could retrieve it. This species is an inhabitant of coastal forests in NSW and Queensland, where it faces the threat of continued habitat loss and may also have been affected by the 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires.
Due to its secretive nature and habitat specificity, the Museum does not have many specimens or associated tissues from this species that could be used for genetic studies, so we were very pleased to add it to the collection.
This species was described by the Museum’s first curator Gerard Krefft in 1869 in his book Snakes of Australia: An Illustrated and Descriptive Catalogue of All the Known Species. When a species is first described the description is based on an original specimen, which in turn is deemed the “holotype”. The Australian Museum still holds the original Stephen’s Banded Snake that Gerard Krefft examined over 150 years ago.
The Australian Museum Herpetology Department takes pride in retrieving and preparing these specimens for the collection as each roadkill is an important scientific observation that is otherwise lost.