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Finding something that wasn’t lost: Tiniest Snake in Barbados

August 3, 2008

I was surprised and a bit taken aback to see this CNN article tonight: Scientist: World’s tiniest snake found in Barbados.

It wasn’t lost, dude. They call it a “poison lizard” there, and the locals have known about it for years. My husband is from Barbados, and we lived there for a number of years while I was working on the Wizardry series (it was the only time I was the game development industry for an entire country). People there know about this snake.

The scientist that “discovered” it has named his new discovery after his herpetologist wife, Carla Ann Hass. It shall henceforth be known everywhere but Barbados as “Leptotyphlops carlae”.

There’s a degree of arrogance about it all – swooping in and claiming to have discovered something that had been discovered long, long before. Adding to that, actually renaming it without any mention of its history on the island and with locals feels pompous to me.

There is a game to the scientific world, of course. He who scientifically names something first gets the prize. It just doesn’t feel fair, though.

25 Comments leave one →
  1. August 3, 2008 11:11 pm

    It’s about exposure to the outside world and the global scientific community. If the locals wanted the notoriety, they could have written a paper on it and obtained the right to name it. And if they don’t, then they can simply brush off the episode and continue on with life and view this snake in the same light they always have.

    And the name you mention is only the scientic name. Outside the scientific community, species are typically known by various and different common names within the locales they live in. It’s not like the average person is going to refer to it as “Leptotyphlops carlae.”

    But granted, there is a level of competition among scientists. But that something that exists in just about every field there is.

  2. Brandon Smith permalink
    August 3, 2008 11:27 pm

    Funny I found one of those snakes in California years ago. I had it in a jar while we were traveling in our motor home. It got out of the jar. Thanks for finding it. So I don’t think it only exists in Barbados.

  3. Larry permalink
    August 3, 2008 11:34 pm

    My only comment, and no I am no biologist or scientist, is that if the locals knew about a creature for so long, why did they not report it’s existence to the science world? If a local had done so, said local could have named the lizard/snake after anyone they chose.

    I hardly find this worthy of such condemnation, it was simply a case of a person who looks for rare and unknown species (to the world beyond Barbados) doing his job. What is wrong with that? At the very least it increases curiosity about the island, and makes it seem more exotic, and how can that be a bad thing?

  4. August 3, 2008 11:58 pm

    @Larry – My husband (the one from Barbados) had a similar thought along the lines of “you snooze, you lose.” He wondered why the Barbados gov’t scientists hadn’t taken the prize for this, particularly since every Bajan knows about the existence of this snake. He was surprised that something hadn’t been done earlier on this species.

  5. Artgoat permalink
    August 4, 2008 6:37 am

    Two comments: One is that this was not a venemous snake. If this is the same critter, why do people there refer to it as a “poison lizard?” And do they not know the difference between a lizard and a snake? (eyelids are the key).

    Two, this snake was only identified as being different from a large variety of similar-appearing thread snakes by using genetic testing. There was no “swooping” involved, but slow, methodical science. It was almost certainly done in cooperation with the Barbados herpetologists.

    Naming new species doesn’t happen as much as it used to. Older examples are more blatant. Do you think that the natives in Africa were unaware of Burchell’s and Grants zebra before Burchell and Grant named them (kind of hard to miss a nine hundred pound striped mammal)?

    There’s no “prize” to be taken. Just a tiny immortality in an obscure pseudo-latin name. That and two bucks will get you a cup of coffee.

  6. tdok permalink
    August 4, 2008 6:51 am

    I agree with ‘bbrathwaite.’ In general, I think a proper indication of local knowledge on the specie will broaden the readers’ knowledge, shine better view of the locals, and create pride for the locals.

    Also, the word ‘discovered’ is such a crappy word. It misleads people to think of a finding that NO ONE has known about. I think a better word to use is ‘introduced,’ (or something of similar meaning) such as “S. Blair Hedges introduced to the scientific world the tiniest snake.”

  7. August 4, 2008 6:59 am

    The reason the locals don’t rush to report every creature they find is they don’t know the creature is considered rare or undiscovered in the rest of the world. If you grow up in the Caribbean, you’re used to seeing all kinds of insects and plants that people in other parts of the world probably have never seeen. You don’t report something as a discovery unless you’re aware it was previously undiscovered. This is just another case of Columbus discovering the Indians. I bet the Indians never thought to identify themselves. They didn’t know they were lost.

  8. Murph permalink
    August 4, 2008 7:49 am

    Those Snakes have been here in the States for some time now..In S. Florida ive seen them in Gardens… thinking they were worms……But was told by a near -by resident that it was a snake..They mostly stay underground…But thats nothing “NEW”……

  9. August 4, 2008 8:51 am

    I just do not like snakes but I can tell you that this lizard, snake or what you label it, is also in St. Lucia. I too always thought it to be a snake but others here rebuke me by recognising it as a lizard.

  10. Jozsef permalink
    August 4, 2008 8:58 am

    Murph is right,I been see this kind of snakes in florida for years and I knew it this is a snake but I can’t remember how I find out.

  11. August 4, 2008 9:00 am

    This is not the worlds smallest snake. The neighbor boy has caught two warm snakes that are smaller then this snake.

  12. August 4, 2008 9:03 am

    @Artgoat – I don’t know where the term “poison lizard” originated. The locals know it’s not a lizard, and in telling me about it, my husband also noted that it wasn’t poisonous. Bajans also have colorful names for other creatures. “Godhorse” is my favorite, and is the name they call the Walking Stick. It is neither God nor Horse, but there you go.

  13. Mike permalink
    August 4, 2008 10:20 am

    I don’t know the details of this ‘discovery’ or its description, but as a biologist I can tell you that these days scientists from US, Europe, etc. generally work closely with their counterparts, or with nonprofessionals, around the world. In general, the locals are given much credit. There has been a recent trend to incorporate local names into the scientific name (not in this case, however). The attitude of Western scientists in giving proper recognition is a million times better than it was only 20 years ago.

    Finally, if you think you have found a smaller snake, contact someone in the biology dept of your local university or natural history museum. Maybe you can get 15 minutes of fame too!

  14. Gregg Whitcomb permalink
    August 4, 2008 10:32 am

    I have this snake in my yard. My nieghbor told me it was called a blind snake. I found the first one when I moved in in 2005. Does that make me the finder of the snake?

    I don’t know what the big deal is? I’ll be glad to dig one up and send it as a sample if they don’t believe me.

  15. August 4, 2008 10:37 am

    I also found “the world’s tiniest snake” on my front porch just the other night in Ponce Inlet Florida. He slithered into a tiny hole under the front door. I have also seen these little snakes in another location just south of here in Eau Gallie Florida, (80 miles south). I was so excited to read this article; have there been any other sitings in Florida?

  16. Nick permalink
    August 4, 2008 11:10 am

    Barbados is home to both the newly described Leptotyphlops carlae and a second Leptotyphlops species, L. bilineatus. Which one do the Barbadians call “poison lizard?” Can you distinguish the two? If not, how do you know that L. carlae is the “poison lizard.” If the Barbadians don’t recognize that there are two species and consider them a single “poison lizard,” then I think it is legitimate to say that Hedges has made a new discovery.

  17. Nick permalink
    August 4, 2008 11:27 am

    Correcting myself: Looking at Hedges paper in Zootaxa, I see that previously collected specimens of L. carlae were misdiagnosed as L. bilineatus which is also found on Martinique. With the new specimens, Hedges has recognized that the Barbadian snake is a different species requiring a new scientific name. So, there is only one “poison lizard” on Barbados.

    I think my point (slightly modified) still stands, though. Although the animals were previously known to local inhabitants (and to other scientists, since there are preserved specimens collected as far back as 1918), Hedges was the one with the detailed knowledge of Leptotyphlops in the Caribbean and throughout the world to recognize this as a new species, distinct from L. bilineatus Although the animals were previously known to the inhabitants of Barbados, I think this legitimately constitutes a new discovery.

  18. Nick permalink
    August 4, 2008 11:36 am

    Gregg and Rosamund,

    There are hundreds of blindsnake species found throughout the world, including the United States. The “new discovery” is one species among many. You have almost certainly seen one of the native species which are all larger than L. carlae, or perhaps one of the other very small snake species native to the US.

  19. August 4, 2008 12:45 pm

    I’m in Miami and my son found one of these in our bathroom the other day. The snake was jet black, and actually smaller than the one pictured in the photo. I told my son it was only a worm; then it flicked it’s tongue out and scared the crap out of us.

  20. August 4, 2008 4:42 pm


    I too have found one of these snakes in my bathroom, I thought it was a worm or type of centipede until I put it in the toilet and it started to swim to the top just like a snake, freaked me out! I do not like snakes and was stunned to say the least to find this type in my bathroom!

    I live in Austin, Texas.

  21. Duke Madison permalink
    August 4, 2008 5:13 pm

    These little critters are all over Texas. I have dozens of them in my back yard, many as small as 2-3 inches.

  22. fuentex permalink
    August 5, 2008 12:48 am

    Please do not give exclusivity to Barbados. For all you know, it is not the only habitat of that species. It may very well be a generalist/ubiquitous species. There are similarly looking/appearing snakes in Hawaii, Philippines and Malaysia. There are common and local names for these organisms. What is the history of this “discovered” snake? It is so familiar to many, that Hedges should not have claimed credit for himself for having named this organism, let alone say that it is found/discovered in Barbados. Has he tried comparing this to species in other locations? I’ll give him a similar snake from somewhere else, a smaller snake perhaps? Hedges may want to name a venomous snake as small as the one he claimed after himself…I’d gladly show him one.

  23. August 10, 2008 11:21 am

    bbrathwaite – “There’s a degree of arrogance about it all – swooping in and claiming to have discovered something that had been discovered long, long before.”

    I agree. It is a very old trend that unfortunately will not go away any time soon. Remember in grammar school when you were taught that Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas? The land that was populated by various nomadic tribes of other human beings… How one can claim that an individual discovered a new land when they know other humans have called it their home for thousands of years before the explorer arrived is absolutely beyond my comprehension. In reality Columbus was the first documented to come in contact with people that once lived here, he didn’t discover anything besides a nautical route to the Americas. And that is debatable.

    My point being is that arrogant douchebaggery has been around for ages.

  24. Mark permalink
    May 17, 2009 10:33 am

    bunch of such snakes like that can be found here at the Philippines. Actualy im trying to breed some of it that i caught. i think it’s that Rare, its common but un-noticed.

  25. Mark permalink
    May 17, 2009 10:36 am

    i think it’s not that Rare,

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