This Nightsnake Was Almost Left Undiscovered

What do you call a snake so elusive that it hasn’t been seen in eighty years? The Clarion nightsnake, of course.

It seems that clear back in 1936 one of the Clarion nightsnakes was tagged and stored during an expedition by a naturalist named William Beebe. He believed at the time that he’d found a brand new species, but without further proof of their existence it was difficult to confirm. Because so much time had passed without anyone obtaining another specimen, the Clarion nightsnake passed into obscurity and was thought by most experts to be just part of another species of nightsnakes rather than the discovery it was. In fact, the find was actually removed from the registry as a mistake.

Today, however, the snake has been officially rediscovered. Daniel Mulcahy, a researcher for the National Museum of Natural History, had decided to solve the case of the missing Clarion nightsnake. Details of the discovery were published in the May 16 issue of PLOS ONE.

Mulcahy had studied the original specimen, which is being kept at the American Museum of Natural History, and it was so distinct that it inspired him to find out more. He attempted DNA testing on the original animal with inconclusive results, so he decided to find out if the elusive reptile was still around. Normally, Clarion island has been off-limits to most people, requiring a military escort to visit. However, with William Beebe’s writings in hand and the help of Revillagigedo Island expert Juan Martinez-Gomez, Mulcahy began the search of a new specimen that would conclusively prove to be a species all its own.

About a year ago the pair set off on a quest to retrace Beebe’s steps, and sure enough they found eleven snakes on Clarion Island that matched the unique find from 1936. The Clarion nightsnake, once dubbed nothing but a mistake, was about to be added to the books again. They conducted a series of DNA tests at the Smithsonian’s Laboratories of Analytical Biology, and confirmed that the Clarion nightsnake was in fact a full species, now dubbed (Hypsiglena unaocualrus). It is genetically distinct from other snakes located on the mainland of Mexico.

The Clarion nightsnake blends in very well with its background of black lava rocks, as it is brownish black, with patches of darker spots on the head and neck. It tends to come out only at night to feast on lizards and other small creatures. These lizards may be disappearing thanks to the hunting practices of feral cats living on nearby islands.

The American Museum of Natural History is a pretty inspiring place. Check it out.