Blair Hedges/Penn State University/AP
It pays to turn over rocks. That simple act has yielded the first detailed descriptions of two new species of tiny snakes, including the world’s smallest.
Pennsylvania State University biologist Blair Hedges and his wife, a zoologist focusing on reptiles and amphibians, found the new snakes during a 2006 trip to Barbados and Saint Lucia prepping for an upcoming field guide. The record-setting snake species, Leptotyphlops carlae, lives on Barbados. The specimen was an adult female, 3.9 inches long and as thin as spaghetti. The second new species, Leptotyphlops breuili, lives in Saint Lucia. This adult male was 4.4 inches long.
Other scientists had spotted these snakes before. But they either misidentified them or only made basic measurements. Dr. Hedges performed more-detailed analyses, including DNA studies, that established these specimens as new species. He notes that little is known about the ecology of these snakes. They belong to a group known as threadsnakes, which typically live in burrows and eat ants and termites. They need a forest habitat to survive – habitat that is fast disappearing in the region and which, for the Barbados specimen, has nearly vanished.
The results appear in this week’s issue of the journal Zootaxa.