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    Leptotyphlops Carlae Discovered: World's Smallest Snake Can Fit On A Coin
    By News Staff | August 3rd 2008 02:00 AM | 25 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    The world's smallest species of snake, as thin as a spaghetti noodle and small enough to rest comfortably on a U.S. quarter, has been identified on the Caribbean island of Barbados.

    The species, with adults averaging just under four inches in length, was discovered by Blair Hedges, an evolutionary biologist at Penn State. They list the discovery in the journal Zootaxa.

    Hedges found the new snake -- a type of threadsnake -- in a tiny forest fragment on the eastern side of Barbados. He believes the species is rare because most of its potential habitat has been replaced by buildings and farms. "Habitat destruction is a major threat to biodiversity throughout the world," he said. "The Caribbean is particularly vulnerable because it contains an unusually high percentage of endangered species and, because these animals live on islands, they have nowhere to go when they lose their habitat."

    The snake named Leptotyphlops carlae, as thin as a spaghetti noodle, is resting on a US quarter. Blair Hedges, professor of biology at Penn State University, discovered the species and determined that it is the smallest of the more than 3,100 known snake species. Credit: Blair Hedges, Penn State


    Hedges determined that the Barbados species is new to science on the basis of its genetic differences from other snake species and its unique color pattern and scales. He also determined that some old museum specimens that had been misidentified by other scientists actually belong to this new species.

    Scientists use adults to compare sizes among animals because the sizes of adults do not vary as much as the sizes of juveniles and because juveniles can be harder to find. In addition, scientists seek to measure both males and females of a species to determine its average size. Using these methods, Hedges determined that this species, which he named Leptotyphlops carlae, is the smallest of the more than 3,100 known snake species.

    According to Hedges, the smallest and largest species of animals tend to be found on islands, where species can evolve over time to fill ecological niches in habitats that are unoccupied by other organisms. Those vacant niches exist because some types of organisms, by chance, never make it to the islands. For example, if a species of centipede is missing from an island, a snake might evolve into a very small species to "fill" the missing centipede's ecological niche.

    The smallest animals have young that are proportionately enormous relative to the adults. The figure shows that hatchlings of the smallest snakes are one-half the length of an adult, whereas the hatchlings of the largest snakes are only one-tenth the length of an adult. Tiny snakes produce only one massive egg -- relative to the size of the mother -- which suggests that natural selection is trying to keep the size of hatchlings above a critical limit in order for them to survive. Credit: Blair Hedges lab, Penn State


    Hedges thinks the Barbados snake may be at or near the minimum possible size for snakes, though he cannot say for sure that no smaller species exists -- several other snake species are nearly as small. While it is possible that a smaller species exists, finding such an animal is unlikely. "Snakes may be prevented by natural selection from becoming too small because, below a certain size, there may be nothing for their young to eat," said Hedges, adding that the Barbados snake, like others to which it is related, likely feeds primarily on the larvae of ants and termites.

    In contrast to larger species -- some of which can lay up to 100 eggs in a single clutch -- the smallest snakes, and the smallest of other types of animals, usually lay only one egg or give birth to one offspring. Furthermore, the smallest animals have young that are proportionately enormous relative to the adults. For example, the hatchlings of the smallest snakes are one-half the length of an adult, whereas the hatchlings of the largest snakes are only one-tenth the length of an adult. The Barbados snake is no exception to this pattern. It produces a single slender egg that occupies a significant portion of the mother's body.

    "If a tiny snake were to have two offspring, each egg could occupy only half the space that is devoted to reproduction within its body. But then each of the two hatchlings would be half the normal size, perhaps too small to function as a snake or in the environment," said Hedges. "The fact that tiny snakes produce only one massive egg -- relative to the size of the mother -- suggests that natural selection is trying to keep the size of hatchlings above a critical limit in order to survive."

    Hedges has discovered and described more than 65 new species of amphibians and reptiles throughout the Caribbean in the course of his genetic and evolutionary studies. In the paper in which he describes the Leptotyphlops carlae snake that he discovered on Barbados, he also describes another new snake that he discovered on the nearby island of St. Lucia, a new threadsnake that is nearly as small as the Barbados snake. Finding new species, collecting them, and naming them is a necessary first step for other types of research. Hedges said this exploration and discovery of new species also is critical for protecting biodiversity. "It is difficult to protect a species if you don't know it exists," he said.

    Hedges and his colleagues also are the discoverers of the world's smallest frog and lizard species, which also were found on Caribbean islands.

    Funding for the research to be published in Zootaxa was provided by the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

    Comments

    RE: the small snake, the article said, "natural selection is trying ...". That seems to denote an intelligence, such as in Intelligent Design? Way to go!

    Hank
    I would think you are looking too hard to find ID in lots of places. I grant there may be evolutionary biologists who support ID but it seems the worst career choice ever.

    "The fact that tiny snakes produce only one massive egg -- relative to the size of the mother -- suggests that natural selection is trying to keep the size of hatchlings above a critical limit in order to survive."

    seems like a valid statement bereft of ideology. In other words, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

    If they aren't talking of Intelligent Design, why do they give "natural selection" intelligent characteristics (as they so often do)? People don't talk about gravity as "wanting" to do anything! Either something is an intelligent force or just a force.

    It funny about this snake, We have had this exact snake in our house for years. Tt hides in our carpet and comes out at night on the tile floors in the kitchen and bathrooms. I have even seen them being caught and eaten by spiders. I live in San Antonio TX. I could even send a picture to prove they are common.

    Hank
    Yes, and not all that uncommon in Barbados either.  Hedges was the first one to discover it is a new species, not its existence.   It was no small amount of annoyance in the people there who, like you, had seen it plenty of times, that he named it after his wife.
    So the scientist flips a rock over and "discovers" a new species.

    The snake - named Leptotyphlops carlae - is the smallest of the 3,100 known snake species and was uncovered by Dr Blair Hedges, a biologist from Penn State University, US.

    "I was thrilled when I turned over that rock and found it," Dr Hedges told BBC News.

    "After finding the first one, we turned hundreds of other stones to find another one."

    In total, Dr Hedges and his herpetologist wife found only two females.

    Then he turns over "hundreds more" rocks looking for more?

    Since he didn't say he "looked under" the rocks, rather "turned them over" I can only assume that he left the flipped over rocks where they laid.

    Say goodbye to the habitat, but he got to name something.

    "It is difficult to protect a species if you don't know it exists," he said.

    Yea, and it's also difficult to protect a species if you flip over all it's nesting sites, and carry off all the know examplars.

    Ok, and for the two you found, doc, where are they now?

    I've seen snakes the same size here in Philippines in my backyard but darker in color, they crawl pretty fast!

    I've seen snakes the same too,

    in indonesia sometimes this snakes apears on the bathup yard, on the same size, like a worm i think.

    I saw one the same size and that is why I googled about snakes but the skin's pretty different but same color. It was thinner than my pinky finger and I found it on our orchid plant but it ran away pretty fast. Any idea what it was?

    i found one of these today in my pool. i thought it was an earthworm but when i took it out it moved like a snake. i could even see the small tongue and its tiny eyes. and its tail seems to have a pointy end

    Where are you located?

    pinellas county florida

    I use to play with that exact snake when I was a kid. I grew up on a ranch in Texas and I promise you, they live under rocks here too. When I first found it, I actually thought it was a millipead, until I picked it up and realized it was a snake.

    To whom it may concern, these things are all over South Florida, mostly black, but surely the same thing.

    Hank
    We know a lot more about zoology than we we did even 10 years ago and a big discovery even further back than that is sharing similarities doesn't mean the species are the same.
    I live in Naples Florida and have these all over my yard. Primarily in the cabage and canary date palms. It's a safe bet to say they're one in the same.

    I had a sad encounter this same snake here Cebu, Philippines. I think this snake is very venomous, it kills my beloved
    dog. It happen just three days ago my pitbull dog suddenly became ill with no apparent reason. At 3:00 pm it cannot stand anymore, I arrived from work at 5:00 pm I observed that it is in terrible pain. I cannot believed what happen to my dog, it was very active at lunch time 12:30 before I left to work. I called the Vet. he told to give some pain reliever and bring the dog to the clinic the next day. I was very glad to see that he manage to stand and wiggled its tail, suddenly I saw this tiny and shinny earthworm-like snake from where my dog lays. I manage to catch it and put it in a jar,I plan to show it to the Vet. . But it was too late my dog dies at 3:00 am the next day. Now I just want to know more about this kind of snake,if this is a similar species..

    that specie is very common here in the philippines and true they are venomous. we called it in Misamis Occidental, Philippines as "dahilog" and in Cebu as "udto-udto". As the name suggest, a person or an animal bitten will likely die after 24 hours without medical attention. From our province, somebody died because of it. they usually live in the rocks, piled bricks and newly plowed field.

    we have a smaller specie here in the philippines. it's black and common in damp areas in the house

    I was removing bermuda grass in front our yard when I encountered this kind of creature. First I thought it was an earthworm but when I look at it closely, I noticed the skin differs from an earthworm. It has shiny and purple black color skin and has a tiny mouth. First I thought it just another creature but somebody told me it was a small venomous snake, in bisayan dialect udto udto. The lenght is not more than 3 inches long and as big as matchstick. This might be the smallest snake in the world smaller than that found in Barbados which featured in this site.

    I had noticed this snake several times over the past 10 years living in Indonesia (on Java) but I had assumed it was some sort of insect due to its small size. I'd never heard of such a small snake until it was mentioned this year on a TV show here called, "On the Spot" or "Spotlite" (can't remember which). It was touted as the smallest snake in the world and was stated as being from Indonesia.

    Over the past two weeks, I've found two. The first I let go because I was busy digging in the garden and didn't want to hurt it by accident. The second I found after removing a stack of bricks where there were lots of wasp larvae and some beetles, plus an ants nest. I caught it and held it for a moment in the palm of my hand but it seemed to be trying to bite me, so I put it in aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

    Just kidding, it didn't succeed in biting me. Under normal lighting conditions, it appeared to be almost black and very shiny. I used a bright LED lamp and magnifying glass because I wanted to make sure it was a snake. First, I saw the scales typical of snakes, then I found the tiny black eyes, and finally I saw the tongue, which I think was blue, flicking. In this light, it appeared to be DARK brown, although some areas were more translucent than others. An interesting thing I noticed is that the tail is pointed downward at the end in almost the same way as the big red-brown millipedes that live here. This snake was thinner than spaghetti, but perhaps larger than angel hair, and was approximately 2 inches long. After photographing it, I released it into my garden.

    I would be very interested in learning more or helping out with research if needed.

    Hank
    Scientists are good about spreading credit around so if you find something new, and it gets identified as a discovery, you will get on the co-discoverer list. 
    Well, I don't know if it's new or not, but it's definitely small. I think the diameter could qualify as thin spaghetti (before cooking) rather than the standard size.

    I found another one today in my garbage can (16" tall with no points of egress below the lid). This one was a bit over 2", but I can't say how much over since it didn't consent to laying straight for long enough to be measured. :)

    When I was examining the other one (unless there's just one that's really trying to get my attention!) yesterday, I noticed that it had a very good ability to...adhere to the wall of the glass jar, even when it was tilted so that the snake was somewhat upside down. Thus, I conclude that the snake uses something other than just its muscles and normal friction to help it move about. Perhaps something somewhat like the special hairs on a gecko's feet, which would explain the one in my garbage today. What do you think?

    I can't imagine how its teeth would be long enough to break the skin of a human and inject its poison (if it indeed has any, as was claimed on TV), but I'm taking no chances.

    i found a “Leptotyhlops Carlae" here in cebu but i reed its not a venomus, you can say me some about and if i can give this species in some laboratory here in cebu?

    I have pictures of one of these snakes I caught in my home on Cebu in the Philippines. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to upload pictures into this site. If somebody can help me upload the pictures, I will. The adult snakes I have caught were every bit as tiny as the snake in the article.

    The Filipinos say that they are venomous, and that if you are bitten, you will not live to see noon the next day. For that reason, they are called Udto Udto here (udto is noon in the Bisayan language). I usaully catch them with a piece of paper and put them into a plastic container until I can take them and put them in a marshy area behind our home. I don't know personally if they are actually venomous, but when I caught the first of those I have found, I used a paper towel to capture it. It was biting the paper towel. Where it bit, there was liquid left in the paper towel. Then again, most Filipinos believe that ALL snakes are venomous, but the liquid left in the towel when it bit made me wonder.

    These tiny snakes are very fast and if you put them in the toilet, they will actually swim back through the toilet to escape. They are very strong swimmers underwater, and move even faster underwater than they do on a hard surface. For that reason, putting them in the toilet may not be a good idea (since they can swim equally well in both directions).

    It is interesting that related species of these tiny snakes are found all around the world on tropical islands. You have to wonder how they got that distribution. I know that they are distributed all over the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia.