A strange silver glint flickering through a tree caught the eye of biologists while on an expedition in the Bahamas. It later turned out they had discovered a very rare new species of snake: the silver boa (Chilabothrus argentum). The findings from the expedition were published in the May edition of the journal Breviora.
During two expeditions, the researchers counted 20 silver boas on the remote Conception Island in The Bahamas. One of these meter-long (3 feet) snakes was discovered on their first expedition when it slithered across lead researcher Graham Reynold’s head as he slept on the beach in the middle of the night. “Sometime around 3:30 in the morning, I woke up to something crawling across my face,” Reynolds told National Geographic.
The biologists from Harvard University conducted genetic analysis on samples of the snakes' tissue, which confirmed that this was indeed a new species – making it the first new species of boa to be discovered in the Caribbean since the 1940s.
As well its own color, the snake got its name from being first discovered on a silver palm tree. R. Graham Reynolds/University of North Carolina Asheville
“Worldwide, new species of frogs and lizards are being discovered and described with some regularity. New species of snakes, however, are much rarer.” Robert Henderson, curator at Milwaukee Museum of Natural History and a world expert on boas, said in a statement on the University of North Carolina Asheville website.
Understandably, not much is known about the snake yet. However, the biologists did notice its diet mainly consists of birds. As with other species of the boa (Boidae) family, it kills its prey through grasping them with its teeth and then constricting them until they die of asphyxiation.
The recently discovered snake has already been declared critically endangered and one of the rarest boa species in the world. Fortunately for the snakes, they are more or less free from human-made threats to their habitat and poaching. But instead, the species is threatened from predation by feral cats on the island.
“We found this species on its way to extinction, and now we have the opportunity to intervene on their behalf so that doesn’t happen,” Reynolds, who is now at the University of North Carolina Asheville, added.
The researchers are collaborating with local authorities to put in place conservation measures. Additionally, all of the individuals caught were measured and electronically tagged to aid further research and easily identify them in future. National Geographic reports that researchers believe removing the feral cats, which are not native to the island, could be the only way to secure the future for this beautiful silver beast.
A silver boa munching down on a bird. R. Graham Reynolds/University of North Carolina Asheville