Adults of the new threadsnake average only 100 millimeters long (not quite 4 inches), says evolutionary biologist Blair Hedges of Pennsylvania State University in University Park.
Hedges is naming it Leptotyphlops carlae in honor of his wife, Carla Ann Hass, he says in the formal description published online in Zootaxa.
The snake’s eye-to-tail stripes, narrow head, scale pattern and some of its DNA segments mark it as a species new to science, Hedges says.
The new species edges out other contenders — namely threadsnake cousins — for the superlative by only a matter of millimeters or by scope of evidence. For one species, museums have only males among the adult specimens, which are typically the smaller sex in Leptotyphlops.
Hedges studied five adult Barbados threadsnakes, including a female that’s going to be the reference specimen for the new species. Hedges and Hass found her in a remnant of forest on the eastern side of Barbados in June 2006.
She carried a single egg in her oviduct. Animals at the miniature end of their species tend to reproduce one offspring at a time, often a baby relatively large in comparison to the mother, Hedges says.
He says the Barbados snake also fits another pattern: Islands are often homes for very large or very small species. Some lineages on continents never make it out to islands, so island dwellers have opportunities to fill niches they wouldn’t on the mainland. Hence, when searching for an unusual form of an animal, such as minis or giants, islands make good places to start looking.
Over his career, Hedges has codescribed other extreme herps: A frog smaller than a dime and the smallest known lizard. Each came from an island.