Rediscovery of an endemic vertebrate from the remote Islas Revillagigedo in the eastern Pacific Ocean: the Clarión nightsnake lost and found

PLoS One. 2014 May 16;9(5):e97682. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0097682. eCollection 2014.


Vertebrates are currently going extinct at an alarming rate, largely because of habitat loss, global warming, infectious diseases, and human introductions. Island ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to invasive species and other ecological disturbances. Properly documenting historic and current species distributions is critical for quantifying extinction events. Museum specimens, field notes, and other archived materials from historical expeditions are essential for documenting recent changes in biodiversity. The Islas Revillagigedo are a remote group of four islands, 700-1100 km off the western coast of mainland México. The islands are home to many endemic plants and animals recognized at the specific- and subspecific-levels, several of which are currently threatened or have already gone extinct. Here, we recount the initial discovery of an endemic snake Hypsiglena ochrorhyncha unaocularus Tanner on Isla Clarión, the later dismissal of its existence, its absence from decades of field surveys, our recent rediscovery, and recognition of it as a distinct species. We collected two novel complete mitochondrial (mt) DNA genomes and up to 2800 base-pairs of mtDNA from several other individuals, aligned these with previously published mt-genome data from samples throughout the range of Hypsiglena, and conducted phylogenetic analyses to infer the biogeographic origin and taxonomic status of this population. We found the Isla Clarión population to be most closely related to populations in the Sonora-Sinaloa state border area of mainland México and Isla Santa Catalina, in the Gulf of California. Based on genetics, morphology, and geographic distributions, we also recognize these two other lineages as distinct species. Our study shows the importance of museum specimens, field notes, and careful surveys to accurately document biodiversity and brings these island endemics (Clarión and Santa Catalina nightsnakes) and mainland population near the Sonora-Sinaloa state border to the attention of conservation biologists currently monitoring biodiversity in these fragile subtropical ecosystems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biodiversity
  • California
  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Genome, Mitochondrial
  • Islands
  • Mexico
  • Pacific Ocean
  • Phylogeny
  • Snakes / classification*
  • Snakes / genetics*


  • DNA, Mitochondrial

Grant support

This research was funded by Smithsonian-NMNH grants awarded to GRZ and DGM, RW McDiarmid and DGM, and funds by the Island Endemics Foundation and INECOL were awarded to JEMG. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.