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The smallest snake in the world – it is so tiny you’d think it’s a worm

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Posted October 2, 2019

If you’ve ever seen the 1997 movie Anaconda, you know that snakes may be pretty big. Well, ok, the classic American-Brazilian adventure horror film, directed by Luis Llosa, had little to do with reality, but in general snakes are easy to distinguish from worms.

Except one – Barbados threadsnakes are so small you may actually think they are earthworms first time you see them.

The average length of the Barbados threadsnake is just around 10 cm. Image credit: Nicolas Perrault III via Wikimedia

Barbados threadsnakes, unsurprisingly, live on the islands of Antigua and Barbuda. At least as far as we know. Barbados threadsnake, known as Tetracheilostoma carlae in scientific literature, have been  first identified as a separate species in 2008. Herpetologist from Pennsylvania State University Stephen Blair Hedges named the new species of snake in honor of his wife, Carla Ann Hass.

Interestingly, the discovery was not done on the natural habitat of Barbados threadsnakes – scientists were studying the collected samples, preserved in the London Natural History Museum and in a museum in California. Previously these samples have been mistakenly identified as belonging to another species.

Barbados threadsnakes are incredibly small. In fact, scientists think that if these snakes were any smaller, they wouldn’t be able to find any food and would simply disappear. The average length of the Barbados threadsnake is around 10 cm.

The largest specimen found was 10.4 cm in length. And we are speaking about adults here. These snakes often weigh as little as 0.6 g. This is actually quite a problem when it comes to survival. Barbados threadsnakes feed on termites and ant larvae. Probably something else as well, but we just don’t know.

Barbados threadsnake on a quarter – the diameter of this coin is 24,26 mm. Image credit: Blair Hedges via Wikimedia

The problem is that Barbados threadsnakes were identified just over a decade ago. This means that very little is known about their population size, its fluctuations and how well these snakes adapt to the changing environment. Barbados has no natural forest left and we don’t know how it affects these little snakes.

We do know, however, that they are oviparous – they lay eggs to reproduce. Eggs are rather large, compared to the size of the snake. Barbados threadsnakes lay only one egg at a time and their offspring is relatively large, but that is normal for smaller snakes.

While the offspring of the largest snakes are only one-tenth the length of an adult, the smaller snakes hatch being one-half the length of an adult. This is because they wouldn’t be able to survive if they were any smaller.

The best way to preserve these tiny little snakes would be to leave them be. Preserving their habitat and main food sources is likely to help them stay here for longer. But at the same time scientists want to research them more so that we would have more useful information, which would also help to protect them.

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