For most of us the idea of a perfect trip to the Bahamas means sipping drinks and sitting by a pool, but for biologist R. Graham Reynolds, Ph.D. and his team of fellow researchers, it's discovering a rare breed of boa.
While exploring a remote island in the southern Bahamas, Reynolds noticed a snake crawling on a silver palm tree at dusk. Its unique coloring and head shape was one that Reynolds, an assistant professor of vertebrate biology at the University of North Carolina Asheville, and his team had never seen before. DNA analysis would confirm that this was, in fact, a new snake species.
"We named the species the Silver Boa (Chilabothrus argentum) because of its silvery color and because the first one was in a silver palm tree," Reynolds tells petMD.
Reynolds and his team have made three expeditions to this particular island and have concluded that the animals occur in a very small area. "Our early results from mark/recapture surveys suggest that there are fewer than 1,000 animals left, making this a critically endangered species."
Not only is it a critically endangered species, but it faces threats on the island, including by feral cats. As Reynolds explains, "Feral cats are devastating to Caribbean boa populations; the cats eat the boas and can easily cause a population crash."
Non-venomous snakes like the Silver Boa are vital to our ecosystem, as they are terrestrial predators. "As we know from countless other studies, the loss of top predators can cause top-down ecological collapse."
The discovery of the Silver Boa is an important one. "[It] shows us how important protected areas are to biodiversity conservation," says Reynolds. "The species was found on an island that is a National Park. If the island had not been protected as a park, these snakes would almost certainly have gone extinct before we knew they existed."
Image via R. Graham Reynolds, Ph.D.