In the tropical arid forests a Carribbean island called Hispaniola, a new species of boa has slithered undetected by scientists for over 100 years. The tiny snake, dubbed the Hispaniolan Vine Boa (Chilabothrus ampelophis), has wide eyes, a unique zig-zagging scale pattern, and a square snout.
Researchers found the species in 2020 during a night-time excursion meant to locate toads, per a statement. The study describing the new species was published in Breviora, a journal associated with the Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology.
"This was a totally unexpected discovery," says study author Robert Henderson, curator of herpetology at the Milwaukee Public Museum, in a statement. "Although there are three other species of boa already known on the island of Hispaniola, this is the first new boa species to come off the island in 133 years."
When researchers spotted the boa, they suspected it was a new species because of its size. The Hispaniolan boa appeared smaller than others the researchers had seen before. Led by naturalist Miguel Landestoy of the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, researchers found a total of six boas belonging to the new species were found on the expedition.
Known adult boa species can reach two meters or more in length, reports Erin Garcia de Jesús for Science News. The longest Hispaniola vine boa that the researchers found was an adult female that measured less than a meter, and the shortest was a young male that measured half a meter long, per Science News.
To confirm that the small serpents were a new species, Landestoy contacted Henderson and Graham Reynolds, a herpetologist at the University of North Carolina Asheville, to analyze DNA from the new species and compare it to other boas from the same region. After genetic analysis, close inspection of the snake's molted skin, and comparing it with five other snakes in the area, the team confirmed that the boa was a new species—and may be the most miniature boa in the world, reports Science News. The team named it Chilabothrus ampelophis after the snake's tiny, slender, and long body shape.
The new species depends on vines, trees, and bushes for shelter, but the snakes may already be experiencing severe habitat loss due to agricultural purposes, according to statement.
"Habitats where previously hidden boa species are found, such as the Hispaniolan Vine Boa or the Conception Island Silver Boa (discovered in 2016), are dwindling," says Reynolds in a statement. "We are lucky to have discovered these incredible creatures before they could be driven extinct. This discovery is further evidence that we still have much to learn about biodiversity in the region. Our task now is to use their discoveries to recognize the value of wild places in the Caribbean and generate action in preserving natural habitats."