Aug 7 2008 11:00am

Three-peat: biologist discovers third unbelievably tiny animal

Evolutionary biologist S. Blair Hedges (Professor of Biology, Pennsylvania State University) seems to have a knack for discovering really, really small animals.  In 1996 he and his team turned up a Cuban frog (Eleutherodactylus iberia) only 10mm/.4 in from snout to vent.  In 2001, on Hispaniola, he and his team documented the existence of a lizard species (Sphaerodactylus ariasae) that averaged only 16mm/.6 in. from snout to vent. 

And now, a tiny snake, Leptotyphlops carlae (named for Hedges' wife, Carla), from Barbados.  As an adult, this threadsnake averages about 100mm/4 in. in length.  It eats the larvae of ants and termites. 

All these little critters produce only one offspring at a time, unlike some of their larger cousins.  Hedges thinks there's a finite lower limit to the size of snake offspring—basically, a newborn snake has to have a big enough mouth to be able to eat something, even if that something is pretty small itself.  So this threadsnake's offspring is about half its adult size at hatching, while the hatchling of a king cobra gets along just fine at about a tenth of its eventual adult size. 

Gorillas big, snakes small, world still full of mystery . . . .

(Photo of Leptotyphlops carlae on a US quarter, found on Wikipedia Commons and used under the terms stated thereSource: Blair Hedges, Pennsylvania State University)

Vanessa Paolantonio
1. vanessa_p
How romantic, naming a minuscule critter after a loved one
Sammy Jay
2. Malebolge
It would be less romantic if Carla were a dude.
Jeffrey Richard
4. neutronjockey
There were a couple of articles regarding the carlae that I ran across that were interesting to me because it pointed out the uniqueness of biodiversity amongst the Caribbean Islands --- specifically that the lack of predators and prey at every step of the ecological food chain allowed for very tiny or very big adaptations.

I found it interesting anyway...
David Keck
5. dkeck
Leptotyphlops carlae does sound like a nice name for a little girl. "Lepto" for short, I think. Or perhaps "Typhlops".


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