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Barbados Threadsnake
An adult Barbados threadsnake on an American quarter dollar
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Leptotyphlopidae
Genus: Leptotyphlops
Species: L. carlae
Binomial name
Leptotyphlops carlae
Hedges, 2008[1]

Barbados Threadsnake (Leptotyphlops carlae) is a species of blind threadsnake. It is the smallest snake species currently known to exist.[1] This member of the Leptotyphlopidae family is found on the Caribbean island of Barbados[2].

The snake was first described and identified as a separate species in 2008 by S. Blair Hedges, a biologist from Pennsylvania State University.[3] Hedges named the new species of snake in honor of his wife, Carla Ann Hass, a herpetologist who was part of the discovery team.[4] Specimens of this species already existed in reference collections in the London Natural History Museum and in a museum in California, but they had been identified incorrectly, as belonging to a species now known to exist only on Martinique, another Caribbean island.[1]

At the time of publication, August 2008, L. carlae was described as the snake species with the smallest adults in the world.[5][6] The first scientific specimens taken by the research team were found under rocks in a forest. The snake is thought to be near the lower size limit for snakes imposed by natural selection, as young snakes need to attain a certain minimum size to find suitable food.[6]

Contents

Description

The average length of Leptotyphlops carlae adults is approximately 10 cm, (4 inches), with the largest specimen found to date measuring 104 mm, (4.09 inches).[1] The snakes are said to be "as thin as spaghetti." The photograph above shows L. carlae on a quarter dollar, a coin with a diameter of 24.26 mm, (0.955 inches).

L. carlae is thought to feed primarily on a diet of termite and ant larvae.[6] Threadsnakes are oviparous, laying eggs to reproduce. The female of this snake species produces only one large egg at a time. The emerging offspring is about half the size of the mother.[6]

The size of mother-to-offspring of large species of snakes (left) compared to small species such as L. carlae (right).

Small species of snake such as L. carlae have new-born offspring that are proportionately larger relative to adults, when compared to larger species of snake. This follows the biological trait that the smallest snakes tend to have offspring that—proportionately—are enormous relative to the adults by comparison to other species. The figure to the left demonstrates that the offspring of the largest snakes (see pointer) are only one-tenth the length of an adult, whereas offspring of the smallest snakes typically are one-half the length of an adult. The scale relationship presented is only of offspring to adult of the same species, not comparing adults. Tiny snakes produce only one, massive egg—relative to the size of the mother—which may suggest that there is a size limit for snake species below which survival is difficult, for internal physiological or external competitive reasons.

Geographic range and habitat

L. carlae is believed to be endemic only to the island of Barbados in the Caribbean. Two recent specimens of the snake were collected near a small remnant of a secondary forest in the east-central area of Barbados. This area is the oldest part of Barbados, the first to emerge from the ocean, and the only part that is not covered by a Pleistocene reef cap.[1]

Secondary forests similar to where the specimens were found are likely a sufficient habitat for this species. As Barbados is extremely densely-populated and now, is largely deforested, the suitable habitat for L. carlae is probably no more than a few square kilometers.[1]

Conservation status

Little is known about the ecology, abundance, or distribution of this species.[1] Essentially, Barbados has no original forest remaining, however, this native species very likely requires a forest habitat for survival since it evolved in the presence of forests.[1] Based on the small number of known specimens and its distribution apparently being restricted to eastern Barbados, the continued survival of the species is a concern.

Etymology

The species name is dedicated to the author's wife, Carla Ann Hass[7].

See also

References

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