UNC Asheville Assistant Professor of Biology Graham Reynolds Rediscovers Snake Species, Documents First Live Examples

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Graham Reynolds

UNC Asheville Assistant Professor of Biology Graham Reynolds has followed up his 2016 published discovery of the Silver Boa, Chilabothrus argentum, with the rediscovery of a species of boid snakes known as the Crooked-Acklins Boa, Chilabothrus schwartzi.

These boas from the Crooked-Acklins Bank, Bahamas, were never documented to have been seen alive in the wild by researchers and were previously only known from a total of four deceased specimens collected in the early 1970s. No photographs of live wild individuals have ever been published, and no juveniles have ever been documented. Reynolds’ co-authored paper published in the journal Breviora today is the first report of live wild individuals. His team of researchers located three juvenile specimens and an adult female Crooked-Acklins Boa during their recent expedition in July of 2017.

Crooked-Acklins Boa juvenile rediscovered in the Bahamas. Photo courtesy of Graham Reynolds.“We can now draw inferences on the biology of the species, including the habitats they occupy and the things that they eat,” said Reynolds. “For example, we discovered that the juveniles are arboreal, nocturnal, and feed on sleeping lizards. The juveniles also undergo a dramatic color change as they age, transitioning from orange to silver-gray, a process referred to as ontogenetic color change.”

Reynolds and his team of researchers from Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology discovered the Silver Boa in 2015, which was the first new species of boa discovered in situ in the Caribbean since the 1940s. That new boa species is considered critically endangered and is one of the most endangered boa species globally. The Crooked-Acklins boa is the 13th species of West Indian Boa, and is of unknown conservation status.

“Despite over a century of scientific work in the Bahamas, our recent discoveries have demonstrated that much remains to be learned about species diversity in the region. The rediscovery of the Crooked-Acklins Boa further signifies the uniqueness and importance of Bahamian wildlife, but also increases the urgency of protecting these species.”

Reynolds also extends his expeditions to UNC Asheville students – an expedition to the Cayman Islands in 2016 included UNC Asheville biology student (now graduate) Amy Castle. An upcoming publication co-written by Reynolds and Castle highlights some of their work together on Caribbean lizard diversity. Additional fieldwork takes Reynolds to swamps and mountaintops around the southeast, as well as all over the Caribbean – from the Bahamas to Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, Central America and beyond. Reynolds also is the co-editor of the books The Amphibians of Tennessee (University of Tennessee Press, 2011) and The Reptiles of Tennessee (University of Tennessee Press, 2013).

Reynolds, an Asheville native and graduate of Carolina Day School, earned his B.A. in biology from Duke University and his Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. His research program uses genetic data, both lab-generated and simulated in silico, pairing modern genetic and statistical methods with natural history and field research.

For more information, contact Assistant Professor of Biology Graham Reynolds at greynold@unca.edu. To view the publication, visit http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.3099/MCZ46.1.