Alsophis Antiguae, the Antiguan Racer, was re-discovered in 1995 on Great Bird Island. Grey-brown in complexion, the snake defied all stereotypes. At the time, the shy reptile was teetering on the brink of extinction. Today, there are more than 100 Antiguan Racers on two islands. This recovery is due to the efforts of the Antigua Racer Conservation Project (ARCP), which is made up of the Environmental Awareness Group, Fauna and Flora International UK, the Antigua Forestry Department, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, and Island Resources Foundation. In 1999, Black Hills State University joined the team.
The ARCP aims to conserve the critically endangered racer and its natural habitat. Additionally, it aims to enhance biodiversity conservation efforts in Antigua and Barbuda, with particular focus on the offshore islands of Antigua.
Born and reared in Richland, Washington, he graduated with a B.S. in Zoology from Washington State University in 1980. He received his Masters Degree in Zoology from Louisiana State University in 1985. In 1996, he completed his Ph.D. in Quantitative Biology at the University of Texas at Arlington. He also worked in the Dallas Zoo Herpetology Department for several years. He has conducted research on reptiles and amphibians in the western and southern United States, and has also worked in the Philippine Islands, the Amazonian lowlands of Peru, the Pacific island of Guam, and tropical lowland areas in Costa Rica and Guatemala. His research interests include tropical biology, conservation biology, and herpetology. He is the author of numerous popular and scientific articles on reptiles and amphibians and is currently an Associate Professor at Black Hills State University. He began work on Antiguan reptiles in 1999, when he was asked to join the Antiguan Racer Conservation Project, a program of research that seeks to reintroduce the endangered snake, the Antiguan racer, to parts of its former range in Antigua and Barbuda. Since then, Dr. Smith and his students have completed numerous studies on the lizards of the area, which are prey items of the snake. Several oral papers have been delivered at international scientific meetings and various papers have been published or are in preparation by Dr. Smith and his students.
If you are interested in this research, you can contact Dr. Smith at:
(605) 642-6879 or
Articles from Campus Currents about Dr. Brian Smith and the ARCP
Since 1999, seven BHSU students joined five of their peers from four Caribbean nations, and along with Dr. Smith, have assisted in research on the Antiguan racer and other flora and fauna Antigua. Dr. Smith usually takes two or three BHSU students to Antigua every summer where they join their Caribbean colleagues in working for two months on the island. There are no special requirements for joining the research team. However, Dr. Smith is interested in working with bright students that are motivated to work in the conservation field, especially with people from other cultures. Students considering a graduate career in field biology are most welcome. Often, students are co-authors with Dr. Smith on research papers based on Antiguan research and several students have presented their research results at national and international scientific meetings. Students are usually funded by external grants, so they do not have to pay their own way nor any of their expenses while in the field. The team is normally in Antigua from late June to late August. If you are interested in a career in international field biology and in collaborative research in Antigua, please contact Dr. Smith.
The first student to work on the ARCP as part of the BHSU team. Ryan and Dr. Smith worked in 1999 and 2000 to conduct surveys on the lizards of various small islands surrounding Antigua. They worked out the basic survey technique still used today to monitor populations of Watts’ anoles on small study islands around Antigua. Ryan presented his work at the 2000 meetings of the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles in La Paz, Baja California, Mexico. After graduation, he went on to work on applications of global information software at Idaho State University.
The first Caribbean student hired by BHSU and the ARCP to work with Dr. Smith as part of the lizard research team. Oniika worked together with Ryan in 2000 to survey Watts’ anoles, then returned to develop a survey technique useful in surveying Antiguan ground lizards and to conduct a conservation assessment of this species for her master’s thesis, which she completed under the direction of Dr. Smith in 2001. The degree was granted by the University of Derby, in the United Kingdom. Dr. Smith and Ms. Davis are currently working on publications stemming from this research. This was the first assessment of the conservation status of this rare lizard ever completed. Ms. Davis now works in the environmental field in Trinidad.
Luke Rostant: A student from Trinidad hired by BHSU and the ARCP to work with Dr. Smith as part of the lizard research team in 2001. Luke assisted Dr. Smith in his research on Watts’ anoles, and also assisted in various projects on the ecology of the lizards of Antigua. Luke has gone on to work on his master’s degree on bats at the University of the West Indies, in Trinidad.
Nicole Douglas: A student from BHSU that came to Antigua to assist in lizard research in 2001. She worked closely with Oniika Davis to develop survey techniques for the Antiguan ground lizards and to assess the conservation status of these rare lizards. She works in Spearfish.
A BHSU student that went to Antigua as part of the BHSU team in 2000. She continued to work extensively on the project with Dr. Smith in Spearfish, and she and Dr. Smith have completed various Antiguan projects together. Jodi traveled to Kansas City in 2002 to present an oral paper at the annual meetings of the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles on a new survey technique developed to census Watts’ anoles in Antigua. She also works with Dr. Smith on various projects of interest in the western South Dakota area. She graduates in spring of 2003 and plans to attend graduate school following graduation.
Here are some links that will give you more information about the Antiguan Racer and the organizations that are involved in its conservation.
The island of Antigua is located at the northern end of the Lesser Antilles in the Eastern Caribbean. It is a small island nation, capitalizing on tourism and its natural beauty. The rush to develop a tourism industry in the area, came very close to causing the extinction of the Antiguan racer.
The Antiguan racer is probably the world's rarest snake. This small, harmless, lizard-eating snake was once widespread throughout Antigua, but became almost extinct early this century, hunted relentlessly by predators such as mongooses and rats. It is thought that only around 100 individuals now survive, on Bird Island, a small island off the coast of Antigua and even this tiny population was damaged by the recent Hurricane George.
For more information about the Antiguan Racer or Antigua click the links below.
Conservation of the Antiguan Racer Snake in Antigua, Eastern Caribbean
by Paul L. Colbert, Nicole Bertscher, and Brian Smith
The Antiguan racer (Alsophis antiguae) is the world’s most endangered snake. There are less than 100 racers in existence surviving on two small offshore islands of Antigua, Lesser Antilles. One of these is the single surviving natural population, whereas the other is a small population recently introduced by the Antiguan Racer Conservation Project (ARCP). Threats to the snake include development and the introduced predators, rats (Rattus rattus) and mongoose (Herpestes javanicus). The ARCP was formed in 1995 to prevent the extinction of this species through planned reintroductions of the snake to suitable host islands in Antigua’s North Sound.
Two of the criteria used to determine whether an island is suitable for snake reintroductions are the absence of introduced predators and the availability of food. The racer feeds primarily on two species of lizards, Watt’s anoles (Anolis wattsi) and Antiguan ground lizards (Ameiva griswoldi). Our work involves surveying the numbers of these two lizard species on numerous islands in the north Sound of Antigua. Snake reintroduction islands are then chosen based in part on the number of lizards present on an island.
Watts’ anoles were surveyed by establishing small survey sites, each site a semicircular area of 2 m radius. Depending on the size of the island, from 16 – 20 survey sites were established. Each survey site was visited three separate times, and anoles were marked using a paint gun. On each visit, a different color of paint was used and the number of lizards previously marked was recorded. These data were then entered into a statistical formula that calculated the number of lizards in all of the survey sites. The size of each island was known from previous mapping work, and we were able to derive the total number of Watts’ anoles on each island.
Antiguan ground lizards
Antiguan ground lizards were also surveyed using a paint-marking technique. However, the technique was substantially different Unlike Watts’ anoles, which are small, two to three inch long lizards, Antiguan ground lizards are large, six inch to a foot long lizards with large ranges. Antiguan ground lizards feed over large areas and entire islands were generally treated as a single survey site. Fortunately, these islands were relatively small. Over a three-day period, Antiguan ground lizards were marked using day-specific paint colors and the number of lizards previously marked were recorded. These data were then used to calculate the number of Antiguan ground lizards on that island.
Population densities of Watts’ anoles were strongly affected by the number of rats on an island (Green Island had a long history of rat invasion and still had rats on the island when surveyed), the vegetation on an island (Rabbit Island and Great Bird Island have extremely dense vegetation or relatively tall forest), and, of course, island size (Green Island is the largest island, with Rabbit and Red Head Islands the smallest). The ground lizards also affect Watts’ anoles. Read Head Island had a large Population of Antiguan ground lizards that harass and may even eat Watts’ anoles. Antiguan ground lizards were not found on Rabbit Island.
Antiguan ground lizards
The biggest surprise of the Antiguan ground lizard data was the extremely low density of ground lizards on great Bird Island. This island hosts the single surviving natural population of Antiguan racer, which seem to be having significant negative effects on the population of Antiguan ground lizards. Rats also affect the densities of Antiguan ground lizards, as shown by data from Green Island. Also significant is the density of the population of Antiguan ground lizards on Red Head Island, which is probably the result of a large colony of seabirds that survive on the island. Ground lizards ate the eggs of the birds of this colony, and probably also feed off of food scraps dropped by the birds.
The results from these surveys of Anolis wattsi and Ameiva griswoldi have been invaluable in the determination of suitable reintroduction islands for the Antiguan racer. One small population of ten snakes has already been established on Rabbit Island. Rabbit Island was chosen as an introduction site in part based on the outcomes of lizard surveys. Currently, lizard population estimates are being used to evaluate new islands for snake reintroductions.
This study has also provided insight into the impact of the Antiguan racer on the lizard populations. Data from lizard surveys on Great Bird Island show a depressed population of Ameiva griswoldi when compared to other islands, suggesting that A. griswoldi does not respond well to intense predation. This is important to consider when planning snake introductions because A. griswoldi has been shown to be of conservation interest as well.
Black Hills State University
School of Natural Sciences
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Spearfish, SD 57799-9095
Black Hills State University, 1200 University St., Spearfish, SD 57799, (800) 255-2478 | © 2011
Thursday, May 23, 2013