Silver Boa Discovered in Bahamas

The discovery is made when the boa slithered onto the head of a researcher.

<p>Photo: Silver boa (<i>Chilabothrus argentum</i>). Credit: R. Graham Reynolds</p>

A large new species of boa made itself known to the world in a dramatic way: it slithered onto the head of a researcher who was sleeping on a beach in the Bahamas.

Named the Bahamian Silver Boa (Chilabothrus argentum), the over three-foot-long snake lives up to its name both due to its shimmery metallic-like body coloration and because of where another such individual was found: up a Silver Palm tree (Cocothrinax argentata). The boa is described in a paper that will soon publish in the journal Breviora.

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Graham Reynolds, now an assistant professor of biology at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, was the beach snoozer who wound up with the snake on his head. Reynolds, then a Harvard Postdoctoral Fellow, was leading a nocturnal survey for reptiles in July 2015 in the Bahamas.

Before his disrupted slumber, Reynolds -- along with co-author Nick Hermann and other colleagues -- had admired one of the silver snakes in a Silver Palm tree near the water's edge on a remote island in the southern portion of the Caribbean island chain. They suspected the snake was a new species, having never seen anything like it before, so they camped out on a nearby beach to rest before hoping to gather and document specimens. That is when one of the snakes essentially discovered Reynolds, instead of the other way around.

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More investigations, including an analysis of a tissue sample from one of the boas, found that the snake did indeed represent a new species. The snake is the first species of boa discovered in the Caribbean since the 1940s. It is now known that there are at least a dozen West Indian boa species.

"Worldwide, new species of frogs and lizards are being discovered and described with some regularity," Robert Henderson, curator of herpetology emeritus at the Milwaukee Museum of Natural History said in a press release. "New species of snakes, however, are much rarer. Graham Reynolds and his co-authors have not only discovered and described a new species of snake, but even more remarkable, a new species of boa. That's rare, exciting, and newsworthy."

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He continued, "The beautiful Bahamian Silver Boa, already possibly critically endangered, reminds us that important discoveries are still waiting to be made, and it provides the people of the Bahamas another reason to be proud of the natural wonders of their island nation."

The researchers hope to work with organizations, such as the Bahamas National Trust, in protecting the snakes and preventing them from going extinct right after they were found ... or found us.