World's Smallest Snake May Be the Smallest That Could Ever Exist

By Eliza Strickland | August 4, 2008 10:13 am

smallest snakeResearchers say they have found the world’s smallest snake on the Caribbean island of Barbados. Evolutionary biologist Blair Hedges says that the tiny reptile, which can comfortably curl up on a quarter and which is barely as wide as a spaghetti noodle, may also be at the evolutionary limit for the smallest size possible for snakes.

Most snakes produce clusters of eggs, but the newly discovered species lays only one egg, which hatches a youngster who is one-half the length of the adult. That would be like humans giving birth to a 60-pound (27kg) baby. Dr Hedges added that the snake’s size might limit the size of its clutch. “If a tiny snake were to have more than one offspring, each egg would have to share the same space occupied by the one egg and so the two hatchlings would be half the normal size.” The hatchlings might then be too small to find anything small enough to eat [BBC News].

In the report, published in the journal Zootaxa, Hedges says that the snake is one of about 300 different species of threadsnake. It was determined to be a newly identified species due to genetic differences from other snakes and its unique color pattern and scales [Reuters]. Oddly, Hedges has also helped identify the world’s smallest frog and the world’s smallest lizard on other Caribbean islands, which he says are the ideal places to find very large and very small creatures, because they offer the opportunity for species to evolve into ecological niches [New Scientist].

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,” said Hedges [National Geographic News].

Image: Blair Hedges/Penn State

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World
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