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

 
     
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

   
   
 
'Black Forest Snake'
   
   

Fig 1


Fig 2


Fig 3
  
Fig 4
 

 

 

 

Family : ELAPIDAE
Species : Toxicocalamus atratus
(part of the T. loriae species complex)
Snout-vent Length : up to 68.2 cm (females)
Maximum Size : ~ 75-80 cm total length

Toxicocalamus atratus was first described in 2022, although the type specimen was collected back in 1964 (Kraus et al, 2022). It was formerly considered part of Toxicocalamus loriae.

The species is endemic to the Central Highlands of Papua New Guinea, occurring at elevations of between 840 and 2140 metres.

This is a secretive, diurnal, ground-dwelling snake of forests and adjacent clearings. It lives amongst the complex tangle of leaf litter, moss growth and rotting logs of PNG's forest floor. In cleared areas adjacent to forest it may be encountered more easily, for example in Kundiawa, Chimbu Province it occurs in agricultural plots ('gardens'), typically hiding beneath piles of vegetation.

The example illustrated here is a relatively large juvenile (total length = 52 cm) found during the daytime; it was crossing an area of cleared land close to primary forest, at an elevation of 1760 metres in Southern Highlands Province, PNG. It was inoffensive in temperament, and made no attempt to bite.

Forest snakes (Loria spp.) are cylindrical in cross section, the head is of similar diameter, albeit somewhat flattened which allows for easy burrowing, and the eyes are small. Their diet is known to include earthworms.

Adult Toxicocalamus atratus are mainly black to blackish brown on both dorsal and ventral surfaces, however juveniles have buff/yellowish venters.

Juveniles have a small yellow patch on each prefrontal scale, and an incomplete, yellow nuchal collar; these fade in adults or may be completely absent.

The supralabials and infralabials (i.e. the scales above and below the mouth) are yellow in juveniles; these colours may persist into adult forms.


Fig 1 : 52 cm juvenile from the Kutubu area, Southern Highlands Province, PNG at an elevation of 1760 metres.

Fig 2 : Side view of the head showing the yellow supralabial and infralabial scales.

Fig 3 : Full view showing buff underside, typical of juvenile Toxicocalamus atratus.

Fig 4 : Typical dense montane forest in Southern Highlands Province, PNG.


Reference :

Kraus F, Kaiser H & O担hea, M.  (2022). Hidden diversity in semi-fossorial Melanesian forest snakes: A revision of the Toxicocalamus loriae complex (Squamata, Elapidae) from New Guinea. Vertebrate Zoology 72 9971034.