Category Archives: snake research

Snake Database Research Project

© 2014 Vern Lovic
© 2014 Vern Lovic

I’ve considered, on a couple of different occasions, creating a large database of snakes in Asia that could be used as a reference tool for anyone that wanted to join (free). I was thinking, start with Thailand snakes first. The data on each snake would be as comprehensive as possible. At the moment there are separate resources we can use to find information about specific species. The information is not up to date in most, and is not comprehensive by any means.

If anyone is interested in joining this project, do let me know. If there is enough interest, we can move forward with it. Information for each species would be exhaustive. Everything that is known about each. Photos of hatchlings, juvenile, and adult snakes. Photos of snake skins. Photos of eggs. Photos of environment typically frequented. Venom characteristics. Links to articles in the literature that provide more scientific information. Links to venom experts in the case of envenomation. Scale counts would be included. Latest finds would be included. New snakes not yet classified will have pages.

There really needs to exist a comprehensive database with everything that is known about a particular species, in one place online. This database would be an attempt at that.

This would be an ideal project for students looking to gain notoriety in the field and to make contacts with other snake enthusiasts around the globe.

Just a thought at the moment. Anybody want to move forward with it?

New Snake for Thailand, or New Species Found!

I found a snake that appears to have never been found in Thailand before today on my hike at a nearby mountain in Thailand.

Time: 12:10 PM, 4/20/2013

Location: Ngorn Nak Mountain, in Tub Kaak, Krabi province, Thailand.

Elevation: ~ 400 meters.

Weather: 34C. Bright sunshine, though the area the snake was in was shaded by the canopy.

Habitat: Leaf litter right off the main trail. This is a limestone mountain with sand/dirt topsoil. This snake was in an area with no water for 150 meters or so. It was dry in the leaves, but it had rained within the last 2 days there.

Time observing: About one minute before it successfully evaded capture through the bed of leaves.

Morphology: Approximately 70 cm in length. Width of body at the thickest part was about 5.5 cm (diameter). There was little difference in the thickness of the body from the neck down through the body. The tail tapered very gradually, and so was long. The head was about 4.5 cm in diameter. Body of snake was uniform in color, a light yellow – almost mustard color. The neck was slightly red for a length of about 5 cm. Head of the snake was the same mustard color, without dark markings typical of some keelbacks. It had the shape of a keelback head, the eye size was consistent. The head was the same yellow color as the body, and then had a white ring that went from under the jaw, around to the back of the head where it meets the top of the neck. It was a closed loop on the top, though I didn’t see under the jaw. The scales were bright and very clear. The eyes were very clear. I was approximately 60 cm from the snake. It was not in shed. There were 2 small dark dots, no bigger than about 1 mm each on opposite sides of the vertebral column, and these continued the length of the body, stopping at the tail. I could not see the belly of the snake.

Details: I was walking back from the top of the peak and was well under the canopy. On my right I heard a little twitch of an animal in the leaves, just a split-second, and it stopped. I looked down, and very close to my right foot was this beautiful little snake. At first, just looking at the tail, I figured it was a light-colored Rhabdophis subminiatus. When I bent down and took a good look, the body morphology, color, pattern, and head were completely different from any other snake I’ve seen in Thailand. I had a snake bag with me, to carry my water in. I quickly ditched my water and wrapped the bag around my hand and watched the snake for a while, waiting to get a better opportunity to make an attempt to grab it. The snake started moving again, head under the leaves, and then popping it up again where I could see it. I made a grab for the neck, thinking I’d just pin it down in the thick leaf litter and better be able to grab it to put it in the snake bag from there. After my hand came down, it was able to slip out forward, then launch itself over the back of my hand and back down into the leaf litter where it was lost in seconds. I spent 10 minutes looking, and then headed back down the trail, remembering precisely where I saw the snake.

I’ve seen many keelbacks and many other snakes here in Thailand – hundreds. I’ve not seen one of this color or morphology before. When I returned home I promptly checked Google image search for keelbacks, Sibynophis, and other snakes that I thought it could possibly be. I found no images anything like this snake. I checked the “A Photographic Guide to Snakes and Other Reptiles of Thailand and South-East Asia” by Cox et al, and did not find this snake listed.

I think there are dozens of new, never before classified snakes to be found in the mountains of Southern Thailand. Thais are not what I’d consider outdoor types, and there are few people in the country that study snakes to any degree. Fewer still are actively herping during the day or night.

If you are interested in finding new snakes, I do suggest you book your flight to Thailand at your most convenient opportunity, and plan on spending a month or more looking. Give me an email if you are going to be close to Krabi province. Oh, and don’t forget your camera, like I just did!

Cheers,

Vern L.

Blue Necked Keelback Envenomation

Copyright R. Subaraj. Email: serin@swiftech.com.sg
Copyright R. Subaraj.

This is a snake found in deep southern Thailand that I’ve not written anything about, but some conversation last night reminded me to put something about online as a warning to others that might encounter or even keep this snake in captivity.

The Blue-Necked Keelback, Macropisthodon rhodomelas is a small colubrid snake that looks innocuous enough, but is one that has the potential to cause some serious damage. I was reading a scientific paper from a man in Singapore that had one captive, that bit down on his finger and chewed for a bit before releasing him. This 120 kg man (264 lbs) fell to the floor a minute after being bitten by this snake. Here is the complete paper on PDF. It would be great if you’d share this page with anyone that you know who keeps snakes, as this snake is frequently regarded as harmless, like the Rhabdophis subminiatus (Red-necked keelback) once was.

Blue Necked Keelback Paper (click)

Cheers,

Vern

Thailand Snakes 2013

Well, 2012 was a great year for herping, and I found a lot of snakes to add to the list of new species I’ve seen. I enjoyed the year quite a bit, and I was able to get out during the day a lot more than I have previously. I have to say, the daytime snakes, with the exception of the King Cobra, and Monocled Cobras, are not all that worth going out in the heat for. I much prefer night time snake hunting.

During the night you can find not only the most interesting group of snakes, but many lizards, geckos, spiders, scorpions, bats, owls, centipedes, and other beasties. Night time is the right time for looking for snakes in Thailand.

I’ve had a number of requests from readers of the site and from Youtube viewers, to go herping this year that I just couldn’t manage. I have to say, I got dozens of requests this year to join people for herping, and for those that look at me as a tour guide to introduce them to the basics of snake hunting.

I have to say honestly – I’m not interested in joining beginners for herping in Thailand. I don’t enjoy the responsibility. I haven’t enjoyed in the past, people that couldn’t follow the few safety guidelines I gave them before we started. I am interested in herping with experienced herpetologists and amateurs that know something already about snakes – whether native to Thailand or some other spot in the world. If I’m not learning anything during the excursion, then it isn’t really worth it for me. I enjoy teaching people about snakes, but my time is so limited, I’ve got to be getting something out of it in the way of education, or it probably just isn’t worth it to me.

In the previous year I had over 800 requests for identification of snakes – through the online form there in the upper right side of the all web pages on the site. That’s pretty amazing. I wish I had the time to respond within 24 hours to each request I get, but again, time is at a premium and it usually takes me a few weeks, and even months, to respond to requests there. Eventually I do respond, so if you have a non-urgent snake ID request, submit it there and I’ll get to it as time permits.

If you have photos – just send them immediately to: info@thailandsnakes.com and I can usually respond within minutes. I am on the computer much of the day, and when I see a request with photos come over the email – I answer immediately. I answer fast because I don’t want the snake to be killed, if there is a chance of that. Secondly, and of course more importantly, I don’t want anyone to mess with dangerous snakes, so I want to ID it quickly and let people know if the snake might be deadly or dangerous.

In 2013 I hope to finally publish a free ebook I’ve been working on for a couple of months, Snakes of Thailand. This will be a book you can put on your mobile phone, iPad, computer, whatever electronic device you have – so you can identify some of the snakes you see. I’ll list some information in the book, but mostly it will be full of photos and some quick facts about whether it is deadly or not – along with some key identifying features to distinguish between snakes that look similar.

I have not posted many photos from viewers that sent them to be posted on the site in 2012. I have hundreds that I just didn’t have the time to post. I’m tremendously busy with some other pursuits, and expect to have little free time in 2013 for fun stuff involving snakes.

If you want to write any articles about Thailand snakes, or any Thailand wildlfe or environmental concerns – whether it includes snakes or not, send it to me by email. I may be open to posting it, depending on the content.

Have a great 2013…

Cheers,

Vern

Banded Kraits Mating Through a Net Fence in Udonthani, Thailand

I was going to wait until I had time to post this, but I just can’t – I’m too excited to show it to you all.

This was sent to me by John Oles from Udonthani, Thailand. Instead of retell the story, I’ll post what he sent to me:

I live 18km outside of the city of Udon (NE Thailand).  About 3 weeks ago a friend was visiting our property.  After supper, I took him to the far corner of our yard to view the fireflies, about 8PM. The area is heavily shaded (during the day) with native trees and is on what my wife calls a giant termite pile (emphasis on giant). It’s pretty much a swampy area, except for on the approximately 30m square termite pile. The area has mongoose, wild ducks, and white rump shamas as well. As we were entering that area, we noticed a yellow krait off to the side of the trail. When we looked closer (but not too close!), it appeared to be one krait (the shiny one) eating another krait (the not so shiny one that’s on the other side of the netting). But as we observed a bit closer, we could see the tails of the two snakes intertwined, apparently mating.
Our best guess was that the shinier of the two kraits was about 1.5 meters, while the duller of the two appears to be slightly shorter.
The snakes made no attempt to strike. The male finally broke away from the female after we observed for about 10 minutes…….that’s when we left as well.

Hope this provides some insight into the yellow kraits in the NE of Thailand.

It definitely does provide some insight. Establishing that banded kraits (Bungarus fasciatus) mate at night in Udonthani in October – on 10/9/11. It also shows that barriers to sexual union might not be barriers at all. Species can cross from one habitat to another despite barriers. Sure it’s not a river, but it’s something to see that snakes disregard the net between them and find a way to mate with the obstacle between them.

If you look at the close up photo – they appear to be mating from opposite sides of the netting. Is that great, or what?

Photos all courtesy of John and Copyright 2011 John Oles.

Banded Kraits - Bungarus fasciatus - Mating in Udonthani, Thailand in early October, 2011.
Copyright 2011 John Oles.

Bungarus fasciatus snakes mating – close up. Netting of fence seems to be between them:

There is very little on Wikipedia about the breeding behavior of these snakes, I’ll post what is there and have a look around for more information to post later.

From Wikipedia for Bungarus fasciatus:

Little is known of its breeding habits. In Myanmar, a female has been dug out while incubating a clutch of 8 eggs, four of which hatched in May. Young have been recorded to measure 298 to 311mm on hatching. The snake is believed to become adult in the third year of its life, at an approximate length of 914mm

From Joachim Bullian’s “Siam-Info.de” – a great resource for snake information:

The mating season for this subspecies (Bungarus fasciatus) is in the months of March and April. About 2 months after mating, the female lays 4 to 14 eggs. The females remain with the clutch of eggs until the young animals have hatched. Contrary to pythons these snakes do not incubate the eggs but only guard them. The incubation period of the eggs amounts to between 60 and 64 days. The new born animals are between 32 and 34 centimetres long.

So, these snakes mating in October shows that there are multiple times of year these snakes are capable of mating in Thailand. Perhaps it varies by location in Thailand?

Ptyas carinata Eyecap Successfully Removed

The Ptyas carinata (keeled rat snake) I caught on the mountain last night had an eyecap that was lodged in the eye-socket and not coming out anytime soon. I’d never removed one before, but, having watched some video about it – I thought I’d give it a try.

What Are Snake Eye Caps?
Snakes have no eyelids, and the skins they shed regularly – covers the eye as well. When the snake skins shed – fall off – there is the covering for the eyes that comes off as well. When they don’t shed with the rest of the skin and get stuck over the eye – they are known as eye caps, or retained eye caps.

Snakes with mites or other infections around the eye might retain the eye caps after a shed, and this is probably what happened to my rat snake, as he had an obvious infection of some sort around the eye.

First I held the rat snake’s head with my right hand and touched the eye cap with a piece of cloth to see how she reacted. No reaction. I wanted to see – was she going to really get agitated if I tried to remove it? She didn’t. Then, using a piece of tape I rolled up into a little stick I attempted to brush against the eye cap from the nose to the neck… hoping it would come off. It did not. The snake still wasn’t agitated. I took a jeweler’s screwdriver and very gently eased it under a little ridge of the eye cap and lifted the cap slowly. The snake was still not having a bad time of it – so I kept going. Eventually it was off completely. Then she livened up because she could see how close I was to her.

Feels good have the snake better off for having seen me, not worse off.

Exterior eye-cap from Ptyas carinata
Interior

I will let this keeled rat snake go at the Thailand mountain I found him on, but in a different location. There is a place I know they are always complaining about the rats. This snake will help with that.

Will shoot some video and photos as I let her go, but it’s with the iPhone – which isn’t the best, but hopefully will give me something usable for YouTube. These keeled rat snakes in Thailand are lovely animals – I hope you get to see one sometime. They are non-venomous, and though they bite if agitated, they can also be hand-held if you know how to do it.

Are There MANY Snakes in Thailand?

I just went back and counted up how many times people in Thailand submitted a Snake ID request through the form on the right side column link.

478 times in 10 months. That’s a lot of people seeing snakes, but really is just a tiny fraction of everyone that sees snakes in Thailand. Some don’t need me to identify them, others don’t think to go find out what it was. Still others don’t see the snake clearly enough to give a good description on the form.

Out of those 478, I probably ID’ed the snake correctly in about 20% of the cases. Not because I instantly know the right one, but because I list multiple snakes – that I hope are researched by the one that submitted the Thailand snake ID request.

It’s very difficult to identify a snake based on color and size alone. Time of day helps. Where it was found – in a tree, in rafters in a house, in the fresh or salt water – all help.

You know what REALLY helps? Photos.

With a photo – we can at least nail it down to 2-3 snakes it must be, or probably is… almost always we can say whether it is dangerous or deadly or not.

So, about 50 times per month we get a form submitted. Almost 2 per day. Can you imagine how many hundreds of people in Thailand will see a snake today? Maybe even 1,000 people across this country of nearly 60 million residents and another million or so visitors here at any one time.

That’s a lot of snakes.

Still, with all of those sightings – not very many people die from snake bites. From the Malayan Pit Viper or one of the kraits – usually less than or around 10 deaths per year each. That’s not too bad. It’d be nice if it was “0” – but, the world isn’t perfect, right?

If you come to Thailand on vacation – would you see likely see a snake?

No. I think maybe 1-2% of all tourists see a snake in Thailand, staying here for a week. Just a guess, but I don’t think it’s more. Heck, it takes me a serious effort usually before I can see a snake.

Yesterday I was lucky and had a red-necked keelback go across my motorbike path. I was able to stop and grab her and transport her to a local heavy forest area where she had less chance of being struck by a speeding vehicle.

You must go looking for snakes to find them – as  a rule in Thailand and all over southeast Asia. They are not as common as birds, bugs, or bees.

Don’t fear Thailand because of snakes – you’ll probably never see one unless you go herping and looking for them specifically!

Snake Poll – Which is Thailand’s Most Common Snake?

There are some snakes that I see often – and you probably do too if you live here, or visit often and see a lot of snakes in Thailand.

I wonder which is the most common snake – there are a few that I often see. Which do you see the most?

What is Thailand's Most Common Snake?

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