I don’t get to go to national parks to look for snakes as often as I’d like so I’m always on the look out for good areas to go out herping (looking for reptiles and amphibians) and the other day I spotted one. It was an abandoned path through a forest which was lined with small shrubs, strewn with boulders and rocks and it had a small stream running through it, it looked like an ideal place to find snakes.
I’d been thinking about the new spot everyday waiting for some free time and the conditions to be right to go and explore it one night. At last we had some free time, it was hot and humid, there wasn’t too much wind so I put my boots on, snake hook and tongs in the car, grabbed the torches, headlamps, camera etc and set out on another adventure with Carly.
We pulled up to the small carpark at the base of the forest covered hill, and were pleasantly suprised to see the area was teaming with life. Just in the car park there were frogs, geckos and insects, and, we hoped, there’d be snakes too.
We set off into the forest and after no more than five or ten minutes Carly had already spotted the first snake, a beautiful young Red-necked Keelback (Rhabdophis subminiatus). Although she won’t admit it, she has become quite adept at wildlife spotting and this first snake was a great start to the night.As the walk continued we saw two more Keelbacks asleep in bushes on the side of the path. There colors weren’t as vibrant as the first but nevertheless it’s always cool to see snakes, especially three in one night and we kept our fingers crossed to see more.After our inital spots we were eager to see more snakes. This wasn’t the case though. After traipsing around the hot and humid forest for a couple of hours we hadn’t seen anything else. We were beginning to tire. Running out of energy and running out of sweat, we decided to call it a night and head home.
It was amazing to see three snakes in a night, and I know we should’ve considered ourselves lucky but inside we were a little disappointed that they were all the same species, and whats more, one that we see quite often. ‘Oh well maybe next time’….and on our way out the forest we went.
The path through the forest is comprised mostly of loose rocks, so our attention for most of the downhill return trip was focused at our feet trying not to trip. I hadn’t given up yet and secretly hoped that we’d still see more snakes on the way back. I would stop to occassionally scan the forest floor and bushes on either side of the path as we traversed.
Suddenly I spotted something, it was a snake, there was no mistaking it and …………. it was covered in black and white bands.What’s so special about a snake with black and white bands you might ask, well here are the scary facts;
Snakes with black and white bands in Thailand can either be:
a) A lethaly venomous Krait or b) A harmless Wolf Snake.
You see kraits have extremely potent neurotoxic venom and their black and white bands serve as a highly visible warning to would be predators. Wolf snakes on the other hand are nonvenomous and so in order to gain some free protection they mimic the kraits black and white colouration in the hopes that they will be left alone.
It would be very easy to incorrectly identify a harmless wolf snake as a lethal krait and vice versa, infact this is exactly the mistake that took the life of the famous American herpetologist Joe Slowinski during a field trip in Myanmar (formerly Burma).
Below are some examples of how alike the two types of snakes look.
Non Venomous Wolf Snakes (the mimics)
Highly Venomous Kraits
So let’s talk about venom; when I say kraits have highly potent venom it is no exaggeration. The many banded krait (Bungarus multicinctus) is ranked around third in the world amongst terrestrial snakes in terms of its venom potency (LD50). The Malayan Krait (Bungarus candidus) has a similarly potent venom which kills 50% of their human victims, even when antivenom is administered. Luckily these snakes are quite docile and tend not to bite unless they are provoked.
Seeing this beautiful black and white snake making its way across the forest floor filled me with a mixture of excitement, fear and respect. I turned to Carly and said something along the lines of ‘this is either one of the most venomous snakes in South-east Asia or it’s a completely harmless wolf snake, and I don’t really know which it is. Be really careful!’.
Keeping our distance we watched the snake as it slithered effortlessly through the leaf litter and then up onto a rock right infront of us, what a poser.We stood there watching the snake as it went about its business seemingly indifferent to our presence and felt priveledged to have seen such a beautiful snake. Eventually, and after many photos we had to pull ourselves away and we left the snake to continue its nocturnal journey through the forest.
As soon as I got home I grabbed my snake books and went about trying to ID the snake but I couldn’t come to a definite conclusion as to what it was. Had we seen a deadly krait or just it’s harmless mimic?
Not sure of the ID, I decided to consult Vern Lovic fromThailandSnakes.com whose vast knowledge of the snakes of Thailand and this species in particular, was quickly able to identify it as the Malayan Krait /Blue Krait (Bungarus candidus). Thanks also to Ton Smits from TonTan Travel and HerpingThailand.com who helped to further educate me about this snake and give me some tips on how to identify them in the future.
What an amazing end to the night and what a fantastic new species to add to my blog.
Recently we haven’t had much time to go out and about exploring for wildlife and I was beginning to feel trapped and a little disheartened, this night walk reignited my sense of adventure and reminded me of why I relocated to Thailand. I’d like to say a special thanks to Carly who supports not only my love of wildlife but all other aspects of life. She accompanies me on long, hot humid jungle hikes, creepy night walks through forests and has endless patience for my constant need to stop and examine wildlife wherever we go. I couldn’t ask for a better companion and parner in life and without her a lot of the experiences on my blog may never have happened.
Thank you Carly for all you do and here’s to lots more adventures in the future xx
Lycodon Ophiphagus Peter Engelen http://www.fieldherpforum.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=9870
Lycodon subcinctus: Peter Engelen http://www.fieldherpforum.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=9870
Lycodon laoensis: Mammuin http://picssr.com/photos/mamuin/page7?nsid=31394161@N03
Many Banded Krait: Briston https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Many-banded_krait
Banded Krait: W Wuster https://bangkokherps.wordpress.com/2011/05/05/banded-krait/