Extinct Northern Mexican Gartersnake Spotted in New Mexico

First Posted: Jul 08, 2013 09:03 AM EDT

The northern Mexican gartersnake was thought to be extinct some 20 years ago. This species that went missing since 1990s was spotted recently in New Mexico.

On June 2, 2013, herpetologists from ABQ BioPark discovered three extinct northern Mexican gartersnakes (Thamnophis eques) along the Gila River in southwestern New Mexico. The northern Mexican gartersnake is one of the rarest of eight different gartersnakes found in the state.

The Northern Mexican gartersnake is an endangered species and listed as a candidate for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. The new discovery of once extinct and rare gartersnake reveals that at least one reproducing population continues to exist in the state.

With tadpoles and minnows as prey, the North Mexican gartersnake is found only in the wetlands regions where there is thick vegetation. It was once spread throughout Arizona, southwestern New Mexico and parts of Mexico. In the past century, the habitat of these gartersnake was slashed by 90 percent as a result of water diversion, wildfires, drought and overgrazing. These species face an additional threat from invasive species such as bullfrogs and crayfish that feed on young gartersnakes.

"This is a huge find for our team. We have spent nearly three years and thousands of man-hours looking for the northern Mexican gartersnake," said Doug Hotle, Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians in a press release. "Although many have written this species off for the state, we thought it was still here somewhere undetected. This discovery means there is still hope for the species and its habitat."

Biologists from BioPark have taken the DNA samples of the newly discovered garters and have tagged and released two of the snakes. While the third snake has been transferred back to Albuquerque where the state herpetologist will verify and confirm the identification of the garter. In the coming weeks, the male garter that is currently kept in quarantine will soon join other rare reptiles in the Conservation Gallery of the Reptile House.

In addition to this, herpetologists from BioPark will collect another male and two females especially for a breeding program. 

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