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Antiguan Racer: Why Is It Endangered?

Antiguan racer snakes are a rare and critically endangered species of snake and have a tiny population that is only found in Antigua and Barbuda in the Caribbean.

Antiguan race snakes were once thought to be extinct and were declared extinct until one was discovered in 1959.

To date, there have been four Antiguan racers discovered making them very uncommon and vulnerable to extinction if their habitat is not conserved.

More information has been collected from Antiga since the first discovery of these rarest snakes which has been used to document their behavior, food sources, and habitats so they can be better preserved for future generations.


Antiguan Racer
Wallamalloo69 at English Wikipedia / Wikimedia Commons

Antiguan racer snakes are a rare and endangered species of snake that is only found in Antigua and Barbuda. They were once thought to be extinct until one was discovered in 1959. These snake species are very uncommon, so it is important to protect their habitat.

Anatomy and Appearance

antiguan racer snake premium photo on our endangered world

Antiguan racers are usually a bright yellow or green with three black stripes, but the color of this snake is dependent upon their location. They need trees for shelter and to regulate their body temperature.

They can grow to 2 feet long and have 18-20 rows of smooth scales along their belly. These snakes are masters of movement. They can jump 18-20 feet, ascend trees quickly, and swim by undulating their bodies like eels.

It is a species with small heads with elliptical-shaped pupils, giving it an advantage when swiveling around for food.


Forest of Pine Trees in Wilderness Mountains
Lane Erickson / Adobe Stock

As this snake’s name indicates, it was native to the West Indian island of Antigua, which is now extinct. The Antiguan racer snake is now found on Bird Island and several other very small islands off the coast of Antigua.

European colonization of Antigua 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 small island.

Slave and cargo ships inadvertently brought black rats to the island, feasting on the sugar cane being grown. To stop the devastation the rats were causing to the cane fields, and mongooses were imported to kill and eat the rats.

As it turned out, this was a far from ideal solution; the invasive black rats were nocturnal, whereas the mongooses were diurnal and found the Antiguan racers delicious. In a short period, the racers were extinct in Antigua.

Fortunately, there was a small colony of snakes on Bird Island, where there were no mongooses, and it was this remnant population that was able to survive.

Since then, several other small islands have been cleared of predators. They have been populated with snakes, helping the number of Antiguan racers to approximately 500.

See Related: Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Antiguan Racer Habitat

brown cobras on a bark

These species are typically found in Antigua and Barbuda in the Caribbean. The Antigua race snakes were thought to have perished until one was rediscovered in 1959 on Great Bird Island, Rabbit Island, and Green Island.

Four Antiguans have been found thus far, making them quite uncommon and at risk of extinction if their habitat isn’t preserved that needed habitat restoration and conservation.

Antiguan Racer Diet and Nutrition

Closeup of garter snake slithering on leaves on the forest floor

The snake is a diurnal snake that feeds mainly on lizards but will also consume small mammals, frogs, and birds. They have been known to eat other snakes, including venomous snakes.

These native species are constrictors, meaning they suffocate their prey by tightly wrapping their bodies around it. They typically eat one meal a day and often go for long periods without eating.

Antiguan Racer Mating Habits

Antiguan Racer Snake on the ground
Louis Imbeau, / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 4.0

These snakes mate by wrapping their bodies around each other and intertwining their tails. Little is known about the snake endemic species’ reproductive patterns, as Antigua racers are rare.

They reproduce sexually when the male adult racers insert their hemipenes into the female, fertilizing her eggs. The male then deposits a spermatophore, which the female picks up with her cloaca.

Antiguan racers lay eggs and the Antiguan racer babies hatch from their eggs fully developed. These snakes are oviparous, which means they lay eggs. They lay clutches of 3-4 eggs every 2-3 years in moist soil below rocks or tree cavities.

Antiguan Racer Behavior

A Group of King Cobra

Typically, the snake is nocturnal. Antigua racers are non-venomous, which makes them harmless to humans. It is snake species that are excellent runners and swimmers making it very difficult for invasive predators to catch them.

When they feel threatened, they will bite their attacker in an attempt to scare him or her off. These species are known to have a mild temperament and typically will not attack unless they feel threatened or provoked.

Antiguan Racer Facts

Here are the fun facts about this snake species.

  • Antiguan racer snakes are the only type of Antiguan Racer
  • They are can be found in Barbuda and Antiga, but nowhere else
  • They have a unique pattern that is yellower than other types of racers because they live on a bright sand coast.
  • They need a healthy population to maintain their status as an endangered species.
  • These snake species are good swimmers because they have flippers instead of feet.

Conservation Status

Antiguan Racer Snake Up close
Louis Imbeau / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 4.0

The Antiguan racer is a species of snake that is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. This means that the Antiguan Racer is facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild. The main threats to the Antiguan Racer are habitat loss and degradation, as well as hunting for their skin and meat.


Man holding gun walking in the forest

While rats and mongooses have been eliminated on target islands due to the increasing rat population, the snakes are still in danger from human predation aside from invasive species (some people consider them dangerous and will kill them) or people who want to keep them as pets.

Thus Antiguan Racer conservation project is planned out. These snakes have a very limited genetic blueprint and are susceptible to disease and snake mites. Another problem is the lack of suitable lizard prey for the snakes, many of which are underweight. Rising sea levels and hurricanes also harm the snakes.

See Related: Philippine Eagle: Species Overview, Conservation, and Threats

Conservation efforts

Juvenile Mojave Rattlesnake with Button Tail
Mark Kostich / Shutterstock

Aggressive conservation efforts and conservation measures have helped the snake species return from the brink of extinction. Among the Antiguan racer conservation project is the poisoning of rats and mongooses on neighboring islands, which has allowed the introduction of snakes. This will not only help with increasing the overall population but also help with genetic diversity.

Although captive breeding has been attempted, the snake is so fragile genetically that it succumbs to disease too easily under these conditions. Feeding the snakes in captivity is also very difficult.

See Related: Endangered vs Threatened vs Extinct Species


Do you know of or are you a part of an organization or know any environmental awareness group that works to conserve the Antiguan Racer?

Organizations raising awareness on converting these species include the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Fauna and Flora International (FFI), and Island Resources Foundation. Then please contact us to have it featured on Our Endangered World.

Final Thoughts

Antiguan racers are a rare and endangered species of Antigua Snake. They have one distinctive characteristic that sets them apart from other snakes: they do not have venom but instead, use their teeth and can only be found in Antigua and Barbuda.

They once thought to be extinct were discovered in 1959 and there have been four endemic species found since then, which makes them very uncommon.


Do Antiguan Racers have fangs or venom?

These world’s rarest snake species are not venomous but possess “sharp teeth” (fangs). Antigua and Barbuda is home to this species, a rare species of snake that was thought to be extinct until one individual was discovered.

Antiguan race snakes are endemic to Antigua and Barbuda; it is estimated that their small population has decreased by 80% in the last 25 years, unlike the West Indian whistling duck, whose population has increased.

Are Antiguan racers poisonous to humans?

They are not poisonous to humans. It is a rare, threatened species and only found in Antigua, so there is no way for them to be poisonous.

How does the Antiguan racer reproduce sexually, and how long does it take to grow up?

Antiguan racers reproduce sexually, meaning that the snake is heterogametic for sex chromosomes- it carries two of the same chromosomes. They grow very fast- about 15 cm long at birth and over 50 cm when they are three months old.

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