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New snake species discovered in Southern Bahamas

Published: May 30, 2016

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A new species of snake has been discovered in the Conception Island National Park, a remote part of the southwest Bahamas. The harmless Silver Boa was found last July during an expedition led by University of North Carolina biologist Dr. Graham Reynolds.

"This is the first new boa species discovered in the Caribbean in over 70 years, and it sheds new light on the origins and extent of reptile biodiversity in the region,” Dr. Reynolds said. “But this animal is critically endangered and already facing extinction. We estimate only a few hundred remain.”

Dr. Reynolds reported his discovery to the Bahamas National Trust and his findings were recently published in the journal of Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology. Reynolds is a Harvard postdoctoral fellow.

The researchers named the new species the Silver Boa, Chilabothrus argentum. The discovery brings the total known species of West Indian boas to 12, with four species and several subspecies endemic to various islands in The Bahamas. All are non-venomous and most are endangered.

“We encountered a beautiful three-foot-long female climbing in a Silver Top Palm (also known as the Thatch Palm) tree near the water’s edge. It appeared unlike any species of boa yet known. Following a search we turned up five more individuals by the next day,” Reynolds said of his 2015 discovery.

Analysis of genetic data from tissue samples collected demonstrated that this unusual silvery boa is a new species, having diverged from other boas in the last several million years. Dr. Reynolds led a second team to the islands in October 2015, directly after Hurricane Joaquin had passed through The Bahamas. They found an additional 14 Silver Boas despite the hurricane damage and loss of vegetation.

These animals were measured and sampled, as well as permanently marked with internal electronic tags so that they will be easily identifiable.

"The discovery of this new species is very exciting,” said BNT Executive Director Eric Carey. “However, as a new species living on a single small island it is extremely vulnerable to natural threats such as hurricanes, predation by wild cats and rats, as well as changes in habitat due to invasive plants. The BNT is working with Dr. Reynolds and other scientists to develop a management plan for our newest endemic reptile."

The research expeditions were funded by the Museum of Comparative Zoology through the Putnam Expedition grants and the Barbour Fund.

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