New silver snake species a 'rare, exciting' find
Biologists looked for lizards but snared a snake species – the silver boa – instead. Amy Middleton reports.
A silvery new species of boa constrictor was a surprise find for researchers exploring the Bahamas.
The new silver boa (named Chilabothrus argentum, which refers to the silver palm tree in which it was discovered), was first spotted near the water's edge on the Conception Island Bank, 25 kilometres from Long Island in the Bahamas – a hotspot for wildlife diversity.
The team led by University of North Carolina-Asheville herpetologist Graham Reynolds was in the Bahamas to survey reptiles, and once the first silver boa was found in its tree-top habitat, the search was on for more examples of the species.
After 40 hours of searching with headlamps, the team uncovered another six silver boas, took measurements and DNA samples and tagged them for identification.
Half the specimens were found in trees or bushes. One was discovered when it slithered onto Reynolds' head at 3.37 am as he napped on the beach, according to a paper published in the journal Breviora.
Along with its leafy habitat, the new snake's silvery colour makes it unique among other boas from the region. The researchers estimate the species probably diverged from other snakes around 2.7 million years ago.
The researchers also emphasise that the species is critically endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature red list criteria. It could be one of the most endangered boas in the world, with feral cats a key predator.
Robert Henderson, an expert on boas at the Milwaukee Museum of Natural History, says discovering a new species of snake is a rare occurrence and called it "rare, exciting, and newsworthy".
"The beautiful Bahamian silver boa, already possibly critically endangered, reminds us that important discoveries are still waiting to be made, and it provides the people of the Bahamas another reason to be proud of the natural wonders of their island nation," he says.