Snake Species Lost for 80 Years – Found!
A species of snake that has managed to elude, well, everyone for almost 80 years has been rediscovered in Mexico, according to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC in the US, the findings of which have been published in the journal PLOS ONE.
The nocturnal Clarión Nightsnake was first discovered in 1936 by William Beebe, an expert on natural history, on Clarión Island, a Mexican island in the Pacific. The snake had never been officially declared extinct, but despite its unique markings and scale pattern, scientists were not able to find it again and so it was struck from the record.
Daniel Mulcahy, a researcher from the Smithsonian, studied the only Clarión Nightsnake specimen from the American Museum of Natural History’s collection and was inspired to search for the snake.
Mulcahy and Juan Martínez-Gómez, an expert from the Instituto de Ecología in Mexico, led an expedition to Clarión Island in the hope of spotting the snake, or at least some evidence of it, if it did, indeed, still exist.
By the end of the expedition, Mulcahy, Martínez-Gómez and their team managed to spot 11 Clarión Nightsnakes, and analyse them. The snakes grow to be about 18 inches (46cm) long, are a sandy colour with dark brownish-black spots, and live on black lava rock near the water of Sulphur Bay which located south of the island.
After carrying out DNA tests on the Clarión Nightsnake, it was found to be indeed genetically distinct from other snakes found on Mexico’s mainland, and found exclusively on Clarión Island. It is thought that if the team had not gone on an expedition with the express purpose of verifying the snake’s existence, it would more than likely have remained unknown to science, whereas now it is recognised as a species of its own, Hypsiglena ochrorhyncha unaocularus.
“The rediscovery of the Clarión Nightsnake is an incredible story of how scientists rely on historical data and museum collections to solve modern-day mysteries about biodiversity in the world we live in,” said Mulcahy in a statement. He added that now the snake is fully recognised as a species, conservation can begin, as well as monitoring the snake to find more out about its role in the island’s ecosystem.
Just like the tiger quoll that was thought to be extinct until it was seen for the first time in 141 years, the rediscovery of the Clarión Nightsnake goes to show that just because a creature has not been seen for almost a hundred years, does not mean that it does not, in fact, live very happily, away from people.