Status: Critically endangered
Known as: Antiguan Racer
Estimated numbers left in wild: 500.
The Antiguan racer holds the rather dubious distinction of being the rarest snake on the planet. This snake is muted in colour with the males being dark brown in colour with beige markings while the females are a silvery-grey with brown splotches. The female is noticeably larger than the male, and her head is also wider. The female can attain a length of up to 100 centimetres, while the male will generally be approximately only 60 centimetres long. Unlike some snake species, Antiguan racers are not aggressive – they are also rather slow moving, belying their name.
These snakes are harmless to human beings, and subsist mainly on lizards. They are ambush hunters, concealing themselves in leaf litter until their favourite prey, one of the area’s lizard species, comes within striking reach. The slow reptilian metabolism permits the Antiguan racer to eat only once every 14 days.
The Antiguan racer is a member of the colubridae snake family, which includes other racers and rat snakes. The racer is diurnal, meaning that it is active during the daytime. The Antiguan racer hides away during the night in a concealed den.
Location: As this snake’s name indicates, it was native to the West Indian island of Antigua, where it is now extinct. The Antiguan racer is now found on Bird Island and several other very small islands off the coast of Antigua.
European colonization of Antigua is what caused the near extinction of the Antiguan racer. It wasn’t direct human predation that was the problem, but rather the animals introduced to the island. Slave and cargo ships inadvertently brought black rats to the island, which feasted on the sugar-cane being grown there. In order to stop the devastation the rats were causing to the cane fields, mongooses were imported to kill and eat the rats.
As it turned out, this was a far from ideal solution; the rats were nocturnal, whereas the mongooses were diurnal and found the Antiguan racers to be delicious. In a short period of time, the racers were extinct on Antigua.
Fortunately, there was a small colony of snakes on Bird Island, where there were no mongooses, and it was this remnant population which was able to survive. Since that time, several other small islands in the region have been cleared of predators and have been populated with snakes, helping the number of Antiguan racers to rise to approximately 500.
Threats: While rats and mongooses have been eliminated on target islands, the snakes are still in some danger from human predation (some people consider them to be dangerous and will kill them), or from people who want to keep them as pets. These snakes have a very limited genetic blueprint and are susceptible to disease and snake mites. Another problem is lack of suitable lizard prey for the snakes, many of which are underweight. Rising sea levels and hurricanes also harm the snakes.
Conservation efforts: Aggressive conservation efforts have helped the Antiguan racer return from the brink of extinction. The poisoning of rats and mongooses on neighbouring islands has allowed introduction of the snakes, which will not only help with increasing the overall population, but also help with genetic diversity. Although captive breeding has been attempted, the Antiguan racer is so fragile genetically that it succumbs to disease too easily under these conditions. Feeding the snakes in captivity is also very difficult.
Antiguan Racer Videos
Do you know of or are you a part of an organisation that work to conserve the Antiguan Racer, then please contact us to have it featured on Our Endangered World.