The world's smallest species of snake, with adults averaging just under four inches in length, has been identified on the Caribbean island of Barbados. The species -- which is as thin as a spaghetti noodle and small enough to rest comfortably on a U.S. quarter --was discovered by Blair Hedges, an evolutionary biologist at Penn State. Hedges and his colleagues also are the discoverers of the world's smallest frog and lizard species, which too were found on Caribbean islands. The most recent discovery will be published on 4 August 2008 in the journal Zootaxa.
Hedges found the new snake -- a type of threadsnake -- in a tiny forest fragment on the eastern side of Barbados. He believes the species is rare because most of its potential habitat has been replaced by buildings and farms. "Habitat destruction is a major threat to biodiversity throughout the world," he said. "The Caribbean is particularly vulnerable because it contains an unusually high percentage of endangered species and, because these animals live on islands, they have nowhere to go when they lose their habitat."
Hedges determined that the Barbados species is new to science on the basis of its genetic differences from other snake species and its unique color pattern and scales. He also determined that some old museum specimens that had been misidentified by other scientists actually belong to this new species.
Scientists use adults to compare sizes among animals because the sizes of adults do not vary as much as the sizes of juveniles and because juveniles can be harder to find. In addition, scientists seek to measure both males and females of a species to determine its average size. Using these methods, Hedges determined that this species, which he named Leptotyphlops carlae, is the smallest of the more than 3,100 known snake species.
According to Hedges, the smallest and largest species of animals tend to be found on islands, where species c
|Contact: Barbara K. Kennedy|