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Friday, September 7, 2007

Snakes of Sri Lanka - 8

Snakes of Sri Lanka - 8

By Jayasri Jayakody

Gold and Black Tree Snake
(Chrysopelea ornate) Polmal Karawala

A small arboreal snake with beautifully arranged dorsal black and dark green stripes, this snake’s underside is yellowish green. But its most prominent feature other than its ornamental colouration is it’s ability to pull its ventrals inward and form a ‘parachute’ which enables it to glide for considerable distances, often many metres. It can often be seen gliding from trees to the ground or from tree to tree.
Arboreal and diurnal, this snake, if cornered never hesitates to attack and strikes at its adversary with utmost tenacity. It is seldom seen on the ground.

Due to its spectacular gliding ability and striking beauty it is also known as the Ornate Flying Snake.
Feeds mainly on lizards and may consume bats and other snakes occasionally. The prey is usually pursued or stalked and seized by the neck which is duly crushed by the strong jaws of the snake. It is notorious for its voracious appetite but has a peculiar habit of avoiding frogs.
Very little is known about its breeding habits. Possibly viviparous and according to dissections of gravid females the brood varies from 6 to 11.

Smallest known specimens range in length from 115mm to 150mm. Maturity is reached at around 100cm and the largest specimens measure around 130cm.
Venom is extremely mild, producing little or no marked effects on humans.

This snake can be easily identified at a distance by its unique colouration and ability to glide.
Upon closer inspection it can be verified by its non enlarged vertebral row and collapsible underside.
Found in India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Southern China.
This snake can be found mainly in the Rainforests of the south west and southern part of the island up to altitudes of over 1000m.
Has been recorded at Balangoda, Weyvelwatta, Punagalla and around Colombo. It is not common possibly due to low numbers or due to the fact that it’s arboreal nature ensures less contact with human beings.

Forsten’s Catsnake
(Boiga forsteni) Le Mapila

one of the largest and fiercest members of the genus boiga the colouration of this snake varies with its range but usually light brown with pale mottles and a white underbelly. It is very slender and well adapted for a nocturnal lifestyle with large eyes.
Nocturnal and strictly arboreal, it becomes highly active by late evening and hunts creatures retiring for the night. It is very vicious and attacks repeatedly once cornered. Occasionally ventures near human dwellings in search of prey.

Has a varied diet, feeds on lizards, small mammals and frogs. However its most remarkable aspect is its hunting tactic of birds. It is often seen waiting on the edge of branches until a bird passes and is quite capable of snatching a bird off the wing. It will also raid nests, pigeon houses and poultry farms. It often consumes birds which other snakes avoid due to size and will even take bats provided the opportunity. Its strong jaws make short work of small prey and may strangle it with its coils if required. Its lightning fast movements ensure that its prey has little or no chance of escape.

Little has been observed about its reproductive habits. It is oviparous and the clutch size varies from 7 to 9. The eggs are laid August and September.
On average this snake may measure 1.5m in length. Often outsized adults with lengths in excess of 2m are also recorded.
The bite of this snake is mildly venomous producing local swelling in most cases. Could have adverse effects if the bitten area is near the neck, head, spine or eyes.
The large size of this snake along with 25 to 27 rows of Costals at its midbody will be enough to distinguish it from other boiga spp. Found in India as far north as the Himalayas and Sri Lanka.

A widely distributed and fairly common snake, it is frequently recorded near rivers of the southwest part of the island up to altitudes of over 400m. Somewhat rare in the dry zone and hill country.

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