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
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 a mountain 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 must be dozens of new, never before classified snakes to be found in Thailand. Thais are not what I’d consider outdoor types, and there are few people in the country that study snakes to any degree. One researcher mentioned a handful that were actively practicing in the country.
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!