Extinction of Jamaica’s endemic reptiles in the past 500 years.


While the love of reptiles might not be everyone’s cup of tea, the reptile diversity and endemism of the Caribbean are a Biodiversity Hotspot herpetologist’s dream.  As an indicator, the West Indies have a total land area no larger than the US state of Oregon, yet they support greater reptile diversity than the US and Canada combined.  Unfortunately, Jamaica has seen two of her endemic reptiles go extinct:  one galliwasp and one small snake.


The Jamaican Giant Galliwasp (Celestus occiduus) was a truly impressive animal.  Males measured up to 30 cm from their snout-to-vent, with an equally long accompanying tail.  It was the largest Celestus on Earth!  Its range included the Black River Morass, where it ate fish and fruits.





A large preserved specimen of a Jamaican Giant Galliwasp in the collection of the British Museum of Natural History.



The Jamaican Racer (Alsophis ater) was a slender, fast moving black snake, about 80-90 cm in length.  It was first described in 1851 by the naturalist Phillip Henry Gosse…..and, despite intensive fieldwork, has not been seen since the 1930s.   It’s believed that the mongoose contributed to its demise.