As of 2008, the Barbados threadsnake has been identified as the world’s smallest species of snake. The snake was previously misinterpreted by several museums as another species, then subsequently deemed its own separate species based on its distinguishing features and DNA.
The first scientific specimens of the species were discovered in 2006 under rocks in the forest by biologist Blair Hedges of Penn State University and his team. Hedges was also involved with the discovery of the world’s smallest species of lizard and frog. The Barbados threadsnake, also known as Tetracheilostoma carlae, was given its name in honor of Hedges’s wife, Carla Ann Hass. She is a herpetologist and was a member of her husband’s team during the discovery. The snake closely resembles an earthworm with an average adult length of 3.94 inches and weight of 0.02 ounces. It is often mistaken for a worm due to its shiny, often gray or pink appearance. It is so small that it is often found pictured on a quarter for reference or compared in thickness to spaghetti. There is still a great deal of unknown information in reference to the species due to its low numbers.
The non-venomous snake is found primarily in the Caribbean island of Barbados and has been characterized by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as critically endangered. It is among approximately 300 different species of threadsnake. Its survival is a growing concern considering the declination of natural forests in the region. The species has been primarily restricted to the eastern region of Barbados. This particular territory is a regrown, secondary forest that is estimated to span only a few square kilometers. Most of Barbados’s original forest habitat has been cleared, forcing the displacement of the species. The species is limited on where it can go when this happens because it inhabits an island. In the 17th century, when the region was colonized by the English, it was converted for the agriculture of sugarcane. Some reports also indicate the occupation of the Barbados threadsnake in the islands of Antigua and Barbuda as well. The snake is also vulnerable to invasive species that are forced to fight for the same food source, further reducing its chance of survival in the long-term.
The Barbados threadsnake is known to feed on termites, ants, and various other types of insect larvae as its main source of food. Scientists hypothesize that its diet develops from its small size and habit of burrowing and living in the soil.
To reproduce, the Barbados threadsnake is oviparous, meaning it lays eggs. However, the female snake can only produce one egg at a time. This egg is large in comparison to the size of the adult snake itself. The resulting offspring are about half the size of the mother. This is true for many other small species of snake and dissimilar to that of larger snakes. Typically, the offspring for larger snakes average to be about one-tenth of the size of its mother.
It has been theorized that the majority of the largest and smallest species of animals live on islands. This has allowed for species to evolve over time and fill certain niches in an ecosystem. If there is a void in a particular species within an ecosystem, it may evolve to fill a certain ecological demand. This can be explained for islands because many organisms do not make it to islands, leaving a vacancy for that ecological niche for other organisms to evolve and fill.