One lone specimen in particular, a type of nocturnal snake referred to as a nightsnake, was declared a new subspecies, Hypsiglena ochrorhyncha unaocularus. But two decades later, when new teams of biologists arrived to Isla Clarión—the specific island Beebe said he found the specimen—they uncovered no trace of the snake. Beebe, the new researchers concluded, must have confused his records. The Clarión nightsnake was declared a figment, nothing more than the result of some faulty note taking.
However, new evidence reveals that Beebe made no such mistake. After nearly eight decades, the Clarión nightsnake has emerged from hiding, researchers from the Smithsonian Institution and the Institute of Ecology in Mexico report in the journal PLoS One.
Zoologist Daniel Mulcahy, the lead author of the study, decided to pursue the long-standing mystery after discovering Beebe’s old specimen stashed at the museum. The Clarión snakes’ scale patterns, he realized, were indeed unique enough to likely represent a distinct subspecies. But the specimen’s DNA proved too old to provide any meaningful identity results, so Mulcahy decided get to the bottom of snake’s identity once and for all by traveling to Isla Clarión and having a look himself.
The snakes’ appearance—dark brown with distinct black dotted patterns—and isolated habitat hinted that they were probably distinct from other nightsnakes. Genetic analysis the team performed, however, clarified the extent of that uniqueness. Rather than a subspecies, the Clarión nightsnake is in fact a full species of its own, the team found. They renamed it Hypsiglena unaocularus in recognition of that correct distinction.
“Our study shows the importance of museum specimens, field notes and careful surveys to accurately document biodiversity,” the team concluded. They also noted that Beebe’s nightsnake was the only species ever known to simply be scratched off the scientific record due to what others assumed to be a collecting location mistake. As it turns out, however, Beebe was right all along.
Source: smithsonian.com By Rachel Nuwer