Sunday, February 07, 2010

Brahminy Blind Snake

Nature never fails to astound me. It is not always necessary to venture into forests to see some of the most amazing creatures, they can be right here in our backyard.
A gardening session by a colleague unearthed this incredible Brahminy Blind Snake (Ramphotyphlops braminus). This is one of the smallest snakes in the world, with a total length averaging about 13cm only. It is easily mistaken for an earthworm but trained naturalists will be able to tell it doesn’t have a segmented body. Instead the body is smooth, cylindrical and on closer examination, the presence of scales. And it is much more active than an earthworm is.

Apparently it is not blind but has tiny eyes. Eyesight is not of utmost importance since this snake spends its time burrowing in the dim world of root masses and soil, hunting small insects especially ants and termites. I tried to see the eyes under a microscope. It’s a thrill to see two black minute eyes staring back.

Another amazing aspect is this species is parthenogenetic, meaning females reproducing females asexually without fertilisation of eggs by males. In fact the Brahminy Blind Snake is an all female species. This is a common reproductive strategy in insects but not so in vertebrates. Some fishes, amphibians and of course snakes are known to be parthenogenetic.

This snake is said to originate from Sri Lanka or southern India, but is now very common in most regions including Singapore thanks to our horticultural practices. Though common and widespread, its ecology hides it away from humans most of the time making this wonderfully intriguing creature a hardly seen rarity…..…unless we start digging through all garden plots.
So if you are an avid gardener, do be gentle when encountering this snake. It is harmless, can be handled safely and is deserving of a home in our gardens.

Pictures taken at: National Biodiversity Centre, December 2009.


Baker, N. & K. K. P. Lim, 2008. Wild Animals of Singapore. A Photographic Guide to Mammals, Reptiles, Amphibians and Freshwater Fishes, Draco Publishing and Distribution Pte Ltd, Singapore.

Wallach, V., 2008, ‘Range extensions and new island records for Ramphotyphlops braminus (Serpentes: Typhlopidae)’, Bulletin of the Chicago Herpetological Society
, vol. 43(5), pp. 80-82.