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.
Amy Middleton is a Melbourne-based journalist.
Read science facts, not fiction...
There’s never been a more important time to explain the facts, cherish evidence-based knowledge and to showcase the latest scientific, technological and engineering breakthroughs. Cosmos is published by The Royal Institution of Australia, a charity dedicated to connecting people with the world of science. Financial contributions, however big or small, help us provide access to trusted science information at a time when the world needs it most. Please support us by making a donation or purchasing a subscription today.