HomeOutdoorsViralScientists Discover Tiny New Dwarf Boa Species

Scientists Discover Tiny New Dwarf Boa Species

by Caitlin Berard
Specimen of a New Species of Dwarf Boa
(Photo by RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP via Getty Images)

The average boa constrictor is 8 feet long (though some stretch further than 18 feet) and weighs around 60 pounds. It’s a fierce predator of South America and one of the largest snakes in the world. The newest boa species, however, is smaller than even a newborn version of its relative. At just a foot long, the tiny new member of the dwarf boa family is the smallest discovered yet.

Alex Bentley, research coordinator of the Sumak Kawsay In Situ field station in the foothills of the Andes, was the one to discover the bite-sized boa. While exploring a patch of cloud forest, the researcher stumbled upon a tiny snake. Unsure of its species, he sent a photo to his colleagues. One of them was Omar Entiauspe-Neto, a graduate student who launched into research on the strange snake.

“We were immediately surprised, because it shouldn’t be there,” Entiauspe-Neto, co-author of the European Journal of Taxonomy paper describing the new species, told CNN.

Dwarf boas aren’t an entirely new discovery. They’ve been found across South America and the West Indies. None, however, had ever been found in the area Bentley was exploring. To make the species even more interesting, it looked “radically different” from its closest known relative.

While the snake didn’t match any known species of dwarf boas, it did bear a resemblance to a specimen in the Ecuadorian Museum of Natural Sciences. “We’re usually afraid to describe new species based on only a single one, because there’s a chance that there might be some sort of variation,” Entiauspe-Neto said. “Once we had those two specimens, we were fairly sure they were a new species.”

New Dwarf Boa Named After Indigenous Activist

After comparing the physical characteristics and genetic sequences of the tiny snakes with known species, researchers finally concluded that the dwarf boa was an entirely new discovery.

Every new species needs a name, and this time, scientists went with Tropidophis cacuangoae. It was named in honor of Dolores Cacuango, an Indigenous activist who not only championed women’s rights but founded Ecuador’s first bilingual schools.

You would never guess it, given their size and appearance, but dwarf boas are relatives of the monstrous boa constrictor. Both species have thickset bodies and vestigial hip bones (remnants of snakes’ legged ancestors). Additionally, the minuscule boa squeezes its prey to death, just like its massive cousin.

Obviously, however, the diminutive dwarf boa can’t bring down a boar or deer. Instead, they snack on small lizards. Without the boa constrictor’s intimidating size, however, dwarf boas can’t stand up to predators in the wild. So, to combat this weakness, they developed a unique and rather disturbing defense mechanism.

When threatened, the mini boas will curl into a ball and bleed from their eyes. Rather than intimidating, it’s a behavior meant to mimic death.

“Most predators tend to feed on living prey,” Entiauspe-Neto explained. When spotting a snake bleeding from its eyes, “the predator is likely to think the snake might be sick or dying. So, therefore, it will not feed on it” to avoid contracting the snake’s apparent illness.