Vertebrate fauna of SE Asia


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Text and photos by Nick Baker, unless credited to others.
Copyright ゥ Ecology Asia 2024










Snakes of  Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia's snakes exhibit a remarkable diversity of colour, patterning, shape and size.  Equally diverse are their habits and behaviour.  Some species, such as the White-bellied Blind Snake, spend virtually their entire lives burrowing in the tropical soil.  Others, such as the Big-eye Whip Snake and Elegant Bronzeback, are master climbers which can easily ascend vertical tree trunks or navigate their way amongst  the most slender of branches.  The most amazing of tree dwellers are of the genus Chrysopelea, such as the Paradise Tree Snake : these 'flying snakes' can glide from tree to tree by flattening their body to trap a cushion of air beneath.

Many species, such as the Puff-faced Water Snake, have found their niche in tropical streams and ponds, while others can survive in mangrove habitat, spending much of their lives semi-submerged. Sea Snakes have taken a watery life to the extreme and are true marine dwellers, though they still need to surface to breathe.

Presented here are a selection of the regions snakes to illustrate this amazing diversity ... 


Blind Snakes  (Typhlopidae)

White-bellied Blind Snake
Argyrophis muelleri
  Brahminy Blind Snake
Ramphotyphlops braminus
  Lined (Striped) Blind Snake
Ramphotyphlops lineatus

Pythons  (Pythonidae)

Sunbeam Snakes  (Xenopeltidae)
Indian Rock Python
Python molurus
  Reticulated Python
Malayopython reticulatus
  Sunbeam Snake
Xenopeltis unicolor

Asian Pipe Snakes
  (Cylindrophiidae)  Pipe snakes are secretive, fossorial (burrowing) snakes that inhabit loose soil and leaf litter, and are seldom encountered at surface.  Their body is cylindrical in form, the head is the same width as the body, and the eyes are small. These are non-venomous snakes, but the flattened tail may be raised as a warning to potential predators. They are widely distributed in Southeast Asia and, as of 2016, thirteen species have been described. Some examples:

Jodi's Pipe Snake
Cylindrophis jodiae
  Red-tailed Pipe Snake
Cylindrophis ruffus  

File Snakes  (Acrochordidae)

Banded File Snake
Acrochordus granulatus 

Slug Snakes  (Pareidae)

Blunt-headed Slug Snake
Aplopeltura boa
  Smooth Slug Snake
Asthenodipsas laevis
  Mirkwood Forest Slug Snake
Asthenodipsas lasgalensis
  Mountain Slug Snake
Asthenodipsas vertebralis
  Keeled Slug Snake
Pareas carinatus   
White-spotted Slug Snake
Pareas margaritophorus 

Pit Vipers
  (Viperidae)  Pit Vipers are so-called as they possess heat-sensing pits located between the eyes and nostrils with which they detect prey. Within SE Asia, 7 genera occur, comprising around 50 species or so; most are classified as Trimeresurus (= Asian lanceheads) or Tropidolaemus (= temple vipers), the latter being extremely sexually dimorphic. Other genera in SE Asia include Azemiops, Calloselasma, Daboia, Ovophis and Protobothrops. Some examples of lanceheads and temple vipers:

White-lipped Pit Viper
Trimeresurus albolabris 
Siamese Peninsula Pit Viper
Trimeresurus fucatus
Hagen's Pit Viper
Trimeresurus hageni 
Cameron Highlands Pit Viper
Trimeresurus nebularis 
Shore Pit Viper 
T.  purpureomaculatus
Sumatran Pit Viper
Trimeresurus sumatranus
Vogel's Green Pit Viper
Trimeresurus vogeli
Broad-banded Pit Viper
Tropidolaemus laticinctus
Bornean Keeled Pit Viper
Tropidolaemus subannulatus
Wagler's Pit Viper
Tropidolaemus wagleri  

Water Snakes  (Homalopsidae)

Dog-faced Water Snake
Cerberus schneiderii
  Rainbow Water Snake
Enhydris enhydris
  Long-tailed Mud Snake
Enhydris longicauda
  Crab-eating Water Snake
Fordonia leucobalia
  Gerard's Water Snake
Gerarda prevostiana
Puff-faced Water Snake   
Homalopsis buccata
  Grey Water Snake
Hypsiscopus plumbea
  Blackwater Mud Snake
Phytolopsis punctata

Terrestrial elapids : Kraits, Coral Snakes, Cobras etc.  (Elapidae)

Banded Krait
Bungarus fasciatus
  Red-headed Krait
Bungarus flaviceps
Blue Malayan Coral Snake
Calliophis bivirgatus
Banded Malayan Coral Snake
Calliophis intestinalis
MacClelland's Coral Snake
Sinomicrurus macclellandi
Monocled Cobra 
Naja kaouthia
  Southern Philippine Cobra 
Naja samarensis
  Indochinese Spitting Cobra 
Naja siamensis
  Equatorial Spitting Cobra 
Naja sumatrana
  King Cobra 
Ophiophagus hannah

Sea Snakes
(Elapidae, Hydrophiinae)  As of 2018, more than 70 species of sea snake are recognised, in 17 genera. These snakes are highly adapted to the marine environment, for example their laterally compressed tails makes them efficient swimmers, they can close off their nostrils to prevent water ingress and they are able to expel excessive salt build-up efficiently. The genus Hydrophis comprises around half of all species (snakes in the genus Laticauda, are not considered to be 'true sea snakes' as they possess fewer such adaptations). Many sea snakes are highly venomous and should be approached with caution.  Some examples:

Beaded Sea Snake
Aipysurus eydouxii
  Olive Sea Snake
Aipysurus laevis
  Short Sea Snake 
Hydrophis curtus
  Striped Sea Snake 
Hydrophis fasciatus
  Beaked Sea Snake 
Hydrophis schistosus
Yellow-lipped  Sea Krait  Laticauda colubrina                  

Keelbacks and Mock Vipers  (Natricidae)

Yellow-Spotted Keelback
Fowlea flavipunctatus
  Chequered Keelback
Fowlea piscator
Malayan Mountain Keelback
Hebius inas
  Red Mountain Keelback
Hebius sanguineum
  Sarawak Keelback
Hebius sarawacense
Speckle-bellied Keelback
Rhabdophis chrysargos
  Orange-necked Keelback
Rhabdophis flaviceps
  Fire-lipped Keelback
Rhabdophis murudensis
  Blue-necked Keelback
Rhabdophis rhodomelas
Red-necked Keelback
Rhabdophis subminiatus
Spotted Keelback
Xenochrophis maculatus
  Triangle Keelback
Xenochrophis trianguligerus
  Striped Keelback
Xenochrophis vittatus
Painted Mock Viper
Psammodynastes pictus 
  Common Mock Viper
Psammodynastes pulverulentus 

Whip Snakes
  (Colubridae, Genus : Ahaetulla, Dryophiops)  Whip snakes are extremely slender, slow-moving, arboreal and somewhat docile snakes, with large eyes. The genus Dryophiops comprise 2 species from Southeast Asia, which are brownish in colour. The genus Ahaetulla comprises 9 species (as of 2018), some of which are a startling bright green colour in the adult form: this genus is spread between Southeast Asia and the Indian Subcontinent.  Some examples:

Big-eye Green Whip Snake
Ahaetulla mycterizans
  Oriental Whip Snake
Ahaetulla prasina
  Keel-bellied Whip Snake
Dryophiops rubescens 

Flying Snakes  (Colubridae, Genus : Chrysopelea)

Golden Tree Snake
Chrysopelea ornata
  Paradise Tree Snake
Chrysopelea paradisi
  Twin-barred Tree Snake
Chrysopelea pelias

Bronzebacks  (Colubridae, Genus : Dendrelaphis)

Striped Bronzeback
Dendrelaphis caudolineatus
  Blue Bronzeback
Dendrelaphis cyanochloris
  Elegant Bronzeback
Dendrelaphis formosus
  Haas's Bronzeback
Dendrelaphis haasi
  Kopstein's Bronzeback
Dendrelaphis kopsteini
Nganson Bronzeback
Dendrelaphis ngansonensis
Sawtooth-necked Bronzeback
Dendrelaphis nigroserratus
Painted Bronzeback
Dendrelaphis pictus
  Cohn's Bronzeback
Dendrelaphis striatus 
  Mountain Bronzeback
Dendrelaphis subocularis 

Many-toothed or Collared Snakes  (Colubridae, Genus : Sibynophis)  

Mountain Many-tooth Snake
Sibynophis collaris    
  Black-headed Collared Snake
Sibynophis melanocephalus

Reed Snakes  (Colubridae, Genus : Calamaria, Macrocalamus, Pseudorabdion)

Bicoloured Reed Snake (juv)
Calamaria bicolor
  Gimlett's Reed Snake
Calamaria gimletti
  Variable Reed Snake
Calamaria lumbricoidea
  Collared Reed Snake
Calamaria pavimentata
  Pink-headed Reed Snake
Calamaria schlegeli
Schmidt's Reed Snake
Calamaria schmidti   
Chan-ard's Reed Snake
Macrocalamus chanardi
  Genting Highlands Reed Snake 
Macrocalamus gentingensis
 Dwarf Reed Snake 
 Pseudorabdion longiceps

Kukri Snakes
  (Colubridae, Genus : Oligodon)  Kukri snakes are so-called as the rear teeth are shaped like the traditional curved kukri knives carried by Nepalese soldiers: these specialised teeth can slice through the eggs of small birds and reptiles which form part of the diet of some species. They have also been documented consuming toads. This genus is diverse: as of 2021, Reptile Database lists more than 80 recognised species, more than half of which occur in Southeast Asia.  Most are terrestrial but some are arboreal. Nearly all species are less than one metre in length.  Some examples:

Tioman Kukri Snake
Oligodon booliati
  Small-banded Kukri Snake
Oligodon fasciolatus
  Mouhot's Kukri Snake
Oligodon mouhoti
  Ocellated Kukri Snake
Oligodon ocellatus
  Eight-striped Kukri Snake
Oligodon octolineatus
Brown Kukri Snake
Oligodon purpurascens  
  Barred Kukri Snake
Oligodon signatus 
  Striped Kukri Snake
Oligodon taeniatus   

Racers  (Colubridae, Genus : Coelognathus, Gonyosoma)

Malayan Racer
Coelognathus flavolineatus  
  Copperhead Racer
Coelognathus radiatus
  Red-tailed Racer
Gonyosoma oxycephalum

Wolf Snakes & Bridle Snakes
  (Colubridae, Genus : Lycodon)  Wolf snakes (so-called because of their dentition) and the closely-related bridle snakes (formerly Dryocalamus), comprise around 60 species, many of which occur in Southeast Asia. These are mainly terrestrial, but some are partly arboreal (especially the bridle snakes). They are slender-bodied, and typical patterning comprises alternate dark and pale banding (with some individuals totally lacking any banding). In 2014 a newly-discovered cave-dwelling species was described from Peninsular Malaysia. Some examples:

Dusky Wolf Snake
Lycodon albofuscus
  Mountain Wolf Snake
Lycodon butleri
  Common Wolf Snake
Lycodon capucinus
  Davison's Bridle Snake
Lycodon davisonii
  Laotian Wolf Snake 
Lycodon laoensis
Malayan Bridle Snake 
Lycodon subannulatus 
Malayan Banded Wolf Snake
Lycodon subcinctus     
  Three-striped Bridle Snake 
Lycodon tristrigatus 

Cat Snakes  (Colubridae, Genus : Boiga)

Green Cat Snake
Boiga cyanea
  Dog-toothed Cat Snake
Boiga cynodon
  Gold-ringed Cat Snake
Boiga dendrophila / melanota
White-spotted Cat Snake
Boiga drapiezii
  Jasper Cat Snake
Boiga jaspidea
Black-headed Cat Snake
Boiga nigriceps 

Rat Snakes  (Colubridae, Genus : Oreocryptophis, Orthriophis)

Red Bamboo Snake
Oreocryptophis porphyraceus 
Moelendorff's Rat Snake
Orthriophis moellendorffi    
  Cave Dwelling Snake
Orthriophis taeniurus

Rat Snakes
  (Colubridae, Genus : Ptyas)  Snakes of the genus Ptyas can be considered the 'true rat snakes'. These are long, fast moving snakes typically encountered at forest edge or in disturbed, rural habitats. Their diet comprises rodents, frogs and other small vertebrates. The Indochinese Rat Snake appears to have adapted to a diet of rats found in oil palm plantations; it is often found as roadkill in parts of rural Peninsular Malaysia. In contrast, the White-bellied Rat Snake is mainly a stream-dweller. As of 2021, 13 species are recognised. Some examples:

Keeled Rat Snake
Ptyas carinata
  White-bellied Rat Snake
Ptyas fusca
  Indochinese Rat Snake
Ptyas korros     
  Oriental Rat Snake
Ptyas mucosa
  Many-banded Green Snake
Ptyas multicinctus

Ringnecks (Colubridae, Genus : Gongylosoma)

Orange-bellied Ringneck
Gongylosoma baliodeirum

Brown Snakes  (Colubridae, Genus : Xenelaphis)

Ocellated Brown Snake 
Xenelaphis ellipsifer
  Malayan Brown Snake
Xenelaphis hexagonotus

  See also ... Snakes of Papua New Guinea