World's Smallest Snake Discovered, Study Says

Scott Norris
for National Geographic News
August 3, 2008

The world's smallest snake—and perhaps the smallest possible snake—has been discovered on the Caribbean island of Barbados, a new study says.

At about ten centimeters long (less than four inches), the diminutive reptile might easily be mistaken for an earthworm, and could comfortably curl up on a U.S. quarter, researchers say.

A second new species, only slightly larger, was found on the neighboring island of St. Lucia.

Genetic tests and studies of the snakes' physical features identified the animals as new species, said biologist Blair Hedges of Penn State university, who led the study team.

Both new species belong to a little-known group of known as thread snakes—also called worm snakes and slender blind snakes. Short and slender, thread snakes burrow in the soil and live on a diet of insect larvae.

Small Victories

Finding the smallest snake completes an odd trifecta for Hedges, who also led the teams that discovered the world's smallest lizard and smallest frog.

"The frog and lizard are also found on Caribbean islands," he said. "But [my] describing all three [for science] is somewhat of a coincidence."

Unfortunately the smallest snake—which Hedges calls Leptotyphlops carlae—may be on the verge of extinction. It appears to be live on only a few square kilometers of forest on Barbados, where almost all the original forests have been cleared.

"I think it should be considered critically endangered because of its limited habitat, apparent rarity, and ongoing threats," sad Hedges, whose study will be published tomorrow in the journal Zootaxa.

Island Dwarfism

The world's roughly 3,100 known snake species show an enormous range in body size, from the Caribbean thread snakes to the roughly 30-foot long (10-meter-long) reticulated python.

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