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Milwaukee Public Museum Researcher Discusses Discovery Of New Hispaniola Vine Boa

Miguel A. Landestoy
A new species of small boa, called the Hispaniolan Vine Boa, was discovered in a remote part of the Dominican Republic just last year.

There are three species of boa on the island of Hispaniola, the Caribbean island where the Dominican Republic and Haiti are located. But now, a fourth species has been discovered — the first new species to come off the island in 133 years.

This boa, a Hispaniolan Vine Boa, is very small and was discovered in 2020 in the tropical dry forests by Miguel Landestoy during a night survey.

To confirm the discovery, Landestoy enlisted the help of Milwaukee Public Museum Curator Emeritus of Herpetology, Robert Henderson, and researcher Dr. Graham Reynolds from the University of North Carolina Asheville.

>>UNC Asheville Professor Partners with Milwaukee Public Museum Researcher and Naturalist To Announce Discovery of Small Boa Species in the Dominican Republic

Dr. Reynolds explains the habitat of Hispaniola is what makes it such a good place for boas.

"The amazing thing about the island of Hispaniola is how topographically diverse it is. In other words, there are a bunch of mountains. And those mountains provide a whole bunch of different habitat types," he says.

Henderson and Dr. Reynolds both say it was the size and shape of the new boas' head that piqued their interest.

Photo courtesy of Miguel Landestoy
The Hispaniolan Vine Boa could be one of the smallest boas ever discovered. Its small, slender body has easily adapted to life among the trees in the Dominican Republic.

"From the very first photograph that we saw ... we both sort of had this feeling of OK this is not something we have seen before. This is not familiar; this is very exciting," says Reynolds.

As boas go, the Hispaniolan Vine Boa is very small and slender, and could even be the smallest boa in the world according to Reynolds. The samples found were adults, but when it comes to estimating how big it can grow, he notes only time and more sample sizes will tell. However, based on information known about other similar boa species, the researchers don't expect the boa to get much bigger.

"That is going to be our goal moving forward is to see if we can find a lot more of these boas, get a better estimate of how big they might actually be able to get," Reynolds notes.

This new species is in danger of experiencing rapid habitat loss. Henderson notes that this discovery highlights the need for conservation efforts in rainforests and other habitats where there could be other undiscovered animals.

"We don't know how large this population is, but we feel it is probably a very localized population, and that concerns us a great deal. Especially if there's a lot of human activity in the neighborhood there — with the further disruption of the habitat. But again, that applies to virtually all islands in the West Indies. It's an ongoing problem, and it's not going to get better," explains Henderson.

Photo courtesy of Miguel Landestoy
The Hispaniolan Vine Boa is the first new species to come off the island of Hispaniola in 133 years. Until last year, there were only three species of boa found on the Caribbean island.

The pair agree that you should be excited about this discovery, even if you aren't into snakes.

"One of my favorite things to talk to people about is the depth and breadth of biodiversity. I mean, for us as humans to be able to appreciate the amount of biodiversity on this planet is already astounding," Dr. Reynolds says. "And for us to be able to appreciate the fact that here you have, you know, a relatively large vertebrate predator on an island — it's been well studied for centuries — that had not been recorded as part of the scientific understanding. I mean, that's just remarkable."

Audrey Nowakowski hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2014.
Kobe Brown is WUWM's Eric Von fellow.
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