Vertebrate fauna of SE Asia
  

 

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Text and photos by Nick Baker, unless otherwise credited.
Copyright ゥ Ecology Asia 2020

 
 
     
   
   

 

   
   
 
Sunbeam Snake
   
   

Fig 1
  

Fig 2


Fig 3
 

Fig 4
 

Fig 5
 

Fig 6
 

Fig 7
 
 


 

Family : XENOPELTIDAE
Species : Xenopeltis unicolor
Maximum Size : 1.2 metres

The Sunbeam Snake, or Iridescent Earth Snake, is one of just two species in the family Xenopeltidae, the other being the Hainan Sunbeam Snake.

This snake is fully terrestrial and inhabits lowland to lower montane forest, scrubland and disturbed habitats. On a local scale, it seems to prefer wet, boggy or swampy ground where it follows a partly burrowing lifestyle.

Sunbeam snakes are so-called because of their smooth scales which, under strong light such as sunlight or camera flash, are highly iridescent.

Under normal light this snake is brown above, with each scale being pale-edged, and pale below. Juveniles are more dark, and have a pale collar across the back of the neck.

Xenopeltis unicolor has a relatively robust body, and a flattened head which is no wider than the body. Its snout is rounded, and its eyes are small. Its tail is short.

It preys on a variety of small vertebrates including frogs and lizards.

In terms of evolution, sunbeam snakes are considered to be an ancient, 'basal', form of snake more closely related to pythons and boas than more modern groups of snakes.

The Sunbeam Snake is wide-ranging, and occurs in Burma, Thailand, Indochina (Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam), Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore, Sumatra, Borneo, Java and many other smaller islands of Indonesia, and the Philippines.  Outside the region it occurs in parts of southern China and the Nicobar Islands (India).


Fig 1 : Example from lowland secondary forest in southern Singapore.

Figs 2 and 3 : Sunbeam Snake in waterlogged, muddy habitat near freshwater swamp forest, Singapore.

Fig 4 : Fully grown specimen swimming across a shallow, rural pond, Singapore.

Fig 5 : Juvenile in coastal forest on the island of Phuket, Thailand.

Fig 6 : Under dull light the scales lack iridescence.

Fig 7 : Under strong light the scales are highly iridescent.


References : H12