Boas in the Caribbean

Turks and Caicos rainbow boa

Turks and Caicos rainbow boa

In mid March, I spent nine days on Big Ambergris Cay in the Turks and Caicos Islands conducting research on the Turks and Caicos rainbow boa Epicrates chrysogaster. Of course, I wasn’t alone! I was with a team of three volunteer assistants and Graham Reynolds, a collaborator and population geneticist from the University of Tennessee. Our project, now in its second year, is focused on understanding the natural history, genetics, and population density of boas in order to formulate a comprehensive plan for their conservation and management.

Big Ambergris, a 1.5-square-mile (4-square-kilometer) private island, is undergoing extensive development and is believed to support the most abundant population of this species remaining. Fifty-nine boas were tagged in 2008, and so far 103 new boas have been tagged in 2009. Out of 165 total captures to date, only 3 have been recaptures of previously tagged individuals, suggesting the population is indeed very large and dense.

My research on boas received considerable media attention during my recent research trip as well! A film crew from the TV show Timbuktu, a popular animal documentary series in Italy, filmed the team in the field; Graham and I were interviewed about our research with boas (and iguanas) by two local TV channels in the Turks and Caicos Islands; and the Turks and Caicos Sporting Club, which manages Big Ambergris Cay, highlighted my research in a press release.

Turks and Caicos dwarf boa

Turks and Caicos dwarf boa

While working on Big Ambergris Cay in March, we also found the first specimen of the endemic Turks and Caicos dwarf boa Tropidophis greenwayi greenwayi recorded from the cay since it was described in the 1930s. Several herpetological surveys conducted in past decades failed to record the species on the cay and concluded, in error, that the species had been extirpated from the island. The snake was photographed, measured, tagged, sampled for genetics, and released. If other specimens are found, they will also be tagged so that information can be compiled on this rare and endemic species.

Glenn Gerber is head of the San Diego Zoo’s Caribbean Regional Program.

Here’s more information about Glenn’s study
Here’s more information about boas

5 Responses to Boas in the Caribbean

  1. Interesting! I’m wondering, just how do you tag a reptile?

  2. I, too, am curious about tagging a snake.

    You must have been really excited to come across the dwarf boa. (Congratulations on your find! It’s great that there’s so much interest in your project!) Hope this isn’t a dumb question, but how does a dwarf boa’s dimensions compare to the rainbow boa?

    Moderator’s note: Glenn is out in the field for a few days with no computer access. He’ll be happy to answer these great questions upon his return. Keep ’em coming!!

  3. Glenn, It is exciting that a dwarf boa specimen, 1st one, was found. I bet you are excited yourself. When you tag a snake, don’t you take a shot type of plunger and put it under the snakes skin closer to the tail. I was watching Erie lake show where they had snakes, they did something like that and then they would make them throw up and check contents of their stomachs and then put them back in the lake after checking them. If found again, all they had to do was hold a hand held scanner to see the chip that was put in and just put those tagged back in the lake. Thanks for all you do for the zoos and animals.

  4. Since these snakes live on an island and their population is increasing, my question is about the impact they are having on the other animals there? What are their natural predators?

    I realize that the development on the island will negatively affect the future of the snake population.

    I love snakes, but they can have a serious effect on bird population. Perhaps my concern is because I lived in Hawaii and the state is very worried about keeping snakes out of the islands to protect the native birds.

    Thank you for your interesting study. The photos are beautiful!

  5. Hi Glenn! This is fantastic! Luigi is writing an essay on field studies for biology, and he had the great idea of searching for one of your reports, and look what we found! Hope you are well.