Friday, January 20, 2012

The Antiguan Racer – World’s Rarest Snake

With fewer than 500 individuals in existence, the Antiguan racer is considered to be the world’s rarest snake. They can only be found on tiny Great Bird Island, a small island off the coast of Antigua.

Antiguan racers are relatively small and non-venomous. Males are usually about three feet long and are dark brown in color with creamy blotches. Females are typically much larger and are silver-grey in color with brown blotches. These snakes are known to be gentle in temperament and pose absolutely no threat to humans.
Photo: WebEcoist
Antiguan racers are diurnal, meaning they are most active during the day. Their primary prey are native Antiguan ground lizards such as anoles, for which they usually hunt by ambush, hiding under leaves until the lizard passes by; usually, Antiguan racers consume roughly two lizards per month.

Prior to colonization, these snakes were common to all of Antigua. However, the arrival of Europeans in the 15th century brought many nonnative rats to the area that would eat, among other things, Antiguan racer eggs. Soon the rat population began to skyrocket, and settlers introduced Asian mongooses to help eradicate them. Instead of eating rats, the diurnal mongooses preferred to prey upon Antiguan racers and the lizards they depended on for food. Within a short time of mongooses being introduced, Antiguan racers vanished, and most considered to them to be extinct.

A population of 50 Antiguan racers was discovered on Great Bird Island in the early 1990’s, apparently able to survive as no mongooses had been introduced there. Since then, conservation efforts have led to the population expanding tenfold, prompting conservationists to rid more islands of mongooses and give the Antiguan racer additional habitat.

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