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Clarion nightsnake rediscovered: 80-years-missing nightsnake stuns scientists

The Clarion nightsnake has been rediscovered after being a mystery missing for almost 80 years. The rediscovery of the Clarion nightsnake is stunning scientists who thought that the snake might not even exist. The elusive snake species was named after Clarion Island, located in the Pacific Ocean about 430 miles west of Mexico. As reported by NPR on May 21, in order to get to the remote and volcanic island, one has to be accompanied by a military escort.

Clarion nightsnake: 80-years-missing Clarion nightsnake stuns scientists
Photo: Daniel Mulcahy via BBC

Except for the military, Clarion Island is not of much interest to anyone else. Historically, the island is said to have been first discovered by a Spanish navigator in 1542, followed by other infrequent and short visits by European explorers. Lacking any attractive sandy beaches, beautiful mountains, or striking vegetation, the island’s dry climate invites mostly rabbits, feral sheep, an iguana lizard, plenty of birds, and an unusual snake.

In 1936, naturalist William Beebe, who was a researcher from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, found a snake on the island and called it Clarion nightsnake. Even though Beebe brought the specimen back to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, when other scientists tried to find the snake again, they were unable to do so.

The mystery of whether or not the unique snake species existed or not was solved by Smithsonian researcher Daniel Mulcahy. Along with a team of other researchers from Mexico's Instituto de Ecologia, Mulcahy found 11 snakes that matched Beebe's description. And by using DNA testing, it showed that the Clarion nightsnake did exist, and that it was genetically different than other snakes located on the Mexican mainland.

According to the Smithsonian, the unique snake is nocturnal, lives on black lava rock habitat near the waters of Sulphur Bay, and grows to be approximately 18 inches long. The snake is brownish black in color and has a characteristic series of darker spots on its head and neck . Its colors provide a perfect camouflage in the black lava rock habitat, and allowed the snake to remain undetected.

The rediscovery of the Clarion nightsnake is significant to biologists and other scientists because “vertebrates are currently going extinct at an alarming rate, largely because of habitat loss, global warming, infectious diseases, and human introductions.”

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