Introducing the Antiguan Racer (Alsophis antiguae) – a snake which has the unfortunate honor of possibly being the rarest snake in the world. Once widespread throughout Antiqua, there are now believed to be a mere 300 of these snakes left. It is now classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List.
Being a rather small and completely harmless, rear-fanged (opisthoglyphous) snake, it only grows to approximately 3 feet in length. What some may find fascinating is that the female of this species tends to grow larger than the males – it is certainly not often one comes across this in nature!
With a rather gentle disposition (as is the case with most snakes actually), humans have absolutely nothing to fear from this snake. Come to think of it, humans have absolutely nothing to fear from the majority of snakes around the world.
However, if you were a Ground Lizard, the story might be different. The Antiguan Ground Lizard (also known as Ameiva griswoldi) is this snake’s favorite meal! And instead of actively hunting for it’s dinner, this snake will hide under the leaves and wait for the lizard to come within pouncing distance! I’m sure this comes as quite the shock to the lizard which was probably just hunting for insects and minding it’s own business.
So what exactly happened to this snake to lead many to believe that it was actually extinct?
Once again, we see that the introduction on non-native species to the area can just almost completely obliterate an entire species in a very short period of time.
In the late 15th century, European settlers began to colonize and develop Antigua and Barbuda and setup massive sugar cane plantations. The ships that delivered the slave labor on these plantation, also brought with them black and brown rats (Rattus rattus and Rattus norvegicus). These rats ate almost every Antiguan racer egg that they could find.
I use the term “brilliant” loosely … very loosely I might add.
Enter stage right: the Indian Mongoose (Herpestes javanicus). The idea was to bring in a large amount of these animals to help control the rat population throughout the plantations. As you can imagine, the plan backfired.
It turns out the mongoose found things way more appetizing than rats: the ground-dwelling reptiles and birds that it ate to the point of extinction … including the Antiguan racer.
Thankfully now the islands are once again mongoose-free, due to an intensive mongoose-eradication program. But is that enough to give these snakes a fighting chance?
Now that the rats and mongooses have been eradicated, there has been a significant population explosion for this snake, with the number of racers on the island actually doubling in two years. This would normally be good news but unfortunately, there is not enough lizards for these snakes to feed upon.
Because the Antiguan Racer has a very poor resistance to common diseases not found in Antigua, many captive breeding programs have failed miserably (a common reptile mite is proving to be fatal for many).
Thankfully several different conservation programs are underway at the moment to restore this species to parts of its original habitat. But only time will tell how successful these programs will be.
By Candace, SaveTheReptiles.com