Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Spotted Blind Snake and Blind Snake

Spotted Blind Snake

This Spotted Blind Snake is also a very primitive snake that is adapted to burrowing underground, though it is slightly larger than the thread snakes. It has a cylindrical body and an indistinct head with polished, tightly fitting scales. The eyes are very reduced in size and simple, and the mouth is toothless. This species feeds mainly on termites but will also eat other small invertebrates. It is probably common and widespread in The Gambia. The Spotted Blind Snake is sometimes found under stones, exposed during ploughing or seen when it is forced to the surface during the rainy season by floods.

Blind Snake
The blind snake, Ramphotyphlops braminus, can easily be confused with a worm by an unknowing person. Blind snake, Ramphotyphlops braminus, shot with a penny to show size.Despite blind snakes’ abundance (more than 300 species) and diversity, they are real strangers to herpetoculture. Depending on your references, there are three families of blind snakes: the Typhlopidae, Leptotyphlopidae and Anomalepidae. Typhlopids and leptotyphlopids contain the bulk of the species. Often the typhlopids are called blind snakes, and the leptotyphlopids are called thread snakes. They differ in their dentition, the number and kind of teeth and their arrangement in the mouth. Just try to see a blind snake’s scales let alone their teeth.

Anomalepids are found in the New World tropics. The family only contains 15 species, and it is sometimes not even considered included with the other two families because anomalepids completely lack pelvic girdles. Another characteristic used to separate blind snake species is the scalation on top of their heads. The smallest snake in the world is a blind snake. Larger species can grow to a length of 39 inches, which is huge by blind snake standards. These snakes have many interesting features. They may have teeth on only the lower or upper jaw, they shed their skin in rings, and in some cases their tails are wider than they are long.

Blind snakes secrete repellent chemicals and sometimes dissect their prey before eating it. They can climb trees and sometimes seem to guard their eggs, and they are found on all warm to temperate continents. Existing in many different colors, blind snakes also may not have eyes or a visible iris, may have cloacal spurs, and may have a solid or speckled pattern. Yet I recall one book that described them as “the least interesting reptile pet.” Most likely this was based on their generally small size and propensity to remain hidden if given a substrate in the tank.

Blind Snakes Introduction
Recently I was able to work with a 6-inch-long adult Brahminy blind snake (Ramphotyphlops braminus) and discovered it to be extremely interesting. Having never even seen a live blind snake before, this was a fantastic opportunity for me to learn about a large group of snakes (they account for about 10 percent of the total number of species worldwide) that some herpkeepers do not even know about.

Brahminy blind snakes are also called “flowerpot snakes,” which is a reference to their ability to disperse throughout the world hidden in the soil of flowerpots. It is thought that large pots used in commercial agriculture have transported this Asian native to Africa, India, Sri Lanka, many Pacific islands, Southeast Asia, Australia, Mexico and the United States. The snakes can be found in Florida, Texas and Hawaii, but Hawaii’s Chamber of Commerce says snakes aren’t in the state.

I found this blind snake at a reptile show. It was hidden away beneath deli cups containing better-known species. Peering into its clear cup, I observed slightly moist garden dirt. The gentlemen at the booth assured me that there was indeed something in the cup, and he gave permission to pop the lid and search for it. I eventually found a wriggling blackish creature measuring 6 inches long with the diameter of a coat hanger wire. Its belly was purplish, and there seemed to be lighter areas at the front what I thought was the front anyway and back of the serpent. The cup’s label identified it as a “round smooth snake,” and that it was.

Drawing on my meager past blind-snake education, I remembered these snakes generally eat termites, ant larvae and ant pupae. Being an outdoorsman (I just retired after 30 years as a park naturalist), I figured getting these feeders wouldn’t be too tough. I immediately made a deal for the “round smooth snake,” and it set me back much less than any other snake purchase I had ever made. Feeding the Flowerpot Snake At home, I put the deli cup in the herp room and began to research. I was able to confirm my original information on small blind snake feeding habits.

In addition to the previously mentioned insects, beetles, small earthworms and even caterpillar feces have been recorded as food for the flowerpot snake. Other blind snake species’ stomachs have been found to contain all these insects and also spiders, fly larvae, moth larvae, crickets, millipedes and centipedes.

For some strange reason my wife seemed adverse to termites, so I concentrated on ants. At least one source on the Internet mentioned some success feeding blind snakes rehydrated ant pupae commercially available as finch food. I hoped to avoid ordering these pupae because they cost a couple times the price of the snake, but after spending a day in search of ants during an Ohio winter, I decided an order might not be such a bad deal after all. Click images to enlarge.


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