Epicrates striatus fosteri
Photo: Sean Williams
On August 14, 1941 Thomas Barbour - the Curator of Amphibians and Reptiles of Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology- described a new boa as "black as a raven's wing- with a glittering pearly iridescence of extraordinary beauty" from North Bimini, Bahamas. Although new to science, the boa was already well-known to the Bimini Islanders as one of the "fowl snakes" native to the Bahamas. The snake in question, the Bimini boa (Epicrates striatus fosteri) is currently considered to be a close relative, or subspecies, of the Hispaniolan boa of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, but the relationship is not readily apparent. The Bimini boa differs from the Hispaniolan boa in terms of its coloration and pattern. The Hispaniolan boa is marked with somber tones of chestnut and dusky brown, whilst the Bimini boa is resplendent with its ground color of shimmering black, decorated by a series of irregular grey blotches along the length of the back and a contrasting creamy white belly.
One of the most amazing attributes of this snake is its large adult size (ca. 8+ feet) along with the density of the populations that once existed on North and South Bimini. Their numbers were affected in the late sixties and early seventies when hundreds of these snakes were removed from the Bimini Islands for the pet trade. No ecological studies have ever been published on the Bimini boa, but it is likely that it inhabits a variety of subtropical dry forest habitats on Bimini- including mangrove, where the adults feed opportunistically on rats and birds. Juveniles tend to feed on smaller prey, such as Anolis lizards and Eleutherodactylus frogs.
Mating takes place in early spring and the young are born in early fall. As in other subspecies of E. striatus, the Bimini boa has relatively large litters of ca. 20 baby snakes, each weighing ca. 15 g at birth. Similar to other species of boas, the young are born alive and are ready to hunt within days with no parental care. Litter size within the species is dependent on female body size. Younger, smaller females will have smaller litters, whilst larger individuals will have larger litters. Bimini boas reach sexual maturity in 3-5 years, depending on how successfully they are able to hunt and grow. While males will attempt to mate each year, females reproduce biennially, or every other year.
The future of this beautiful snake is uncertain. Once common on all the Bimini Islands, including East Bimini, North Bimini, South Bimini, and Easter Cay, populations have evidently been much reduced by human persecution, illegal collection, and development. Long ago, in the forties, Barbour lamented about "the extermination of what few land vertebrates there were once to be found on such islands as Cat Cay and Gun Cay."
Editors note: Through the efforts of the Shark Lab and others the Bimini population has been made aware of the importance of this exquisite boa. As a result of this the Bimini boa populations have blossomed, especially on south Bimini. Today Shark Lab and others have placed PIT tags and tracked several dozen Bimini Boas!
Text Courtesy of:
Peter J. Tolson, Ph.D
Director of Conservation & Research
The Toledo Zoo