The case of the Clarion Nightsnake (absolutely not pictured above) is somewhat of a controversy in the snake-expert community. The eighteen inch nocturnal species was discovered in the first half of the 19th century and then struck from the scientific record, only slithering back into the public eye after its rediscovery was announced last Friday.
National Museum of Natural History researcher Daniel Mulcahy rediscovered the species, announcing in PLOS One on the 16th that the snake had been found after an 80-year disappearance. The only known previous specimen of a Clarion nightsnake (Hypsiglena ochrorhyncha unaocularus) was found in 1936, on Clarion island in Western Mexico.
The species was never formally declared extinct, but in a controversial decision was sssssstruck from scientific record due to an error. Mulcahy found living specimens by studying the single preserved Clarion nightsnake housed at the Museum of National History, venturing to Clarion using the journals of the snake’s original discoverer as a guide, and speaking a lot of Parseltongue (probably).
The elusive snakes have dark brown skin, live on lava rock near the water, and, as their name implies, only venture out at night– so it’s easy to understand how their camouflage and reclusive habits could keep them away from biologists’ eyes. On his expedition to Clarion, Mulcahy discovered 13 nightsnakes, and one great name for a metal band. The nightsnakes can be found exclusively on Clarion, and the island is accessible only by government escort.
Mulcahy explained to Smithsonian the significance of finding definitive proof of the mysterious species:
The rediscovery of the Clarion nightsnake is an incredible story of how scientists rely on historical data and museum collections to solve modern-day mysteries about biodiversity in the world we live in[…]Proper identification is the first step toward conserving this snake, and we plan to continue monitoring this species to learn more about the role it plays in the delicate Clarion Island ecosystem.
If it’s hard for you to swallow the idea that a species could go eighty years without being seen, then try unhinging your jaw and swallowing it whole. That works for the Clarion nightsnake.