UNC Asheville Biology professor discovers new species of snake

Graham Reynolds, UNC Asheville assistant professor of biology with a subject of study. Photo courtesy of UNC-Asheville

press release:

Graham Reynolds, Biology Faculty at UNC Asheville, Discovers New Species – the Silver Boa

ASHEVILLE, N.C. – UNC Asheville Assistant Professor of Biology Graham Reynolds recently led a team from Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology in the discovery of a new species of boid snake during an expedition to a remote corner of the Bahamian Archipelago. The team has named the new species the Silver Boa, Chilabothrus argentum and will publish its findings in a paper this May in the journal Breviora.

Significantly, this is the first new species of boa discovered in situ in the Caribbean since the 1940s and brings the total known species of West Indian boas to 12. This new boa species is considered critically endangered and is one of the most endangered boa species globally.

We found this species on its way to extinction, and now we have the opportunity to intervene on their behalf so that doesn’t happen,” says Reynolds.

The team, led by Reynolds as a Harvard Postdoctoral Fellow, first found the species in July 2015 during nocturnal surveys for reptiles on a pair of uninhabited islands. Its silver color and distinct shape suggested something new and genetic data from tissue samples, analyzed when they returned to Harvard, confirmed that it was a new species. On that first trip, they found six animals, including one that crossed directly over Reynolds’ head while he slept one night.

“Worldwide, new species of frogs and lizards are being discovered and described with some regularity,” says Robert Henderson, curator emeritus of herpetology at the Milwaukee Museum of Natural History and one of the world’s experts on boas. “New species of snakes, however, are much rarer. Graham Reynolds and his co-authors have not only discovered and described a new species of snake, but even more remarkable, a new species of boa. That’s rare, exciting and newsworthy. The beautiful Bahamian Silver Boa, already possibly critically endangered, reminds us that important discoveries are still waiting to be made, and it provides the people of the Bahamas another reason to be proud of the natural wonders of their island nation.”

CREATURE FEATURE: Chilabothrus argentum, the new Silver Boa species discovered by a team of scientists led by Graham Reynolds, UNC Asheville assistant professor of biology. Photo courtesy of UNC Asheville
CREATURE FEATURE: Chilabothrus argentum, the new Silver Boa species discovered by a team of scientists led by Graham Reynolds, UNC Asheville assistant professor of biology. Photo courtesy of UNC Asheville

Reynolds led a second expedition to the islands in October 2015, directly after Hurricane Joaquin. That expedition yielded an additional 14 captures despite the hurricane damage and loss of most of the leaves off of the trees. The animals were measured and sampled, as well as permanently marked with internal electronic tags so that they will be easily identifiable. Conservation measures are being put into place with the cooperation of local organizations such as the Bahamas National Trust, with the hope of protecting these animals and to prevent them from going extinct not long after having been discovered. Reynolds also plans more surveys, incorporating the research into his zoology classes and undergraduate research projects at UNC Asheville.

It’s a tangible example of what a species is, how we describe them, and how we define them,” Reynolds says, adding that his own motivation for studying the evolution, ecology and conservation of reptiles and amphibians in the Southeastern United States and Caribbean stems from his undergraduate experience, where he first worked on a tropical island through an undergraduate research project.

Reynolds, an Asheville native and graduate of Carolina Day School, earned his B.A. in biology from Duke University and his Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. His research program uses genetic data, both lab-generated and simulated in silico, pairing modern genetic and statistical methods with natural history and field research.

His field work takes him to swamps and mountaintops around the southeast, as well as all over the Caribbean – from the Bahamas to Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, Central America and beyond. Reynolds also is the co-editor of the books The Amphibians of Tennessee (University of Tennessee Press, 2011) and The Reptiles of Tennessee (University of Tennessee Press, 2013).

For more information, contact Assistant Professor of Biology Graham Reynolds at greynold@unca.edu.

About Max Hunt
Max Hunt grew up in South (New) Jersey and graduated from Warren Wilson College in 2011. History nerd; art geek; connoisseur of swimming holes, hot peppers, and plaid clothing. Follow me @J_MaxHunt

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