A slippery encounter: Snakes of Thailand
With Thailand home to 175 species of snakes, 48 of which are deadly, it pays to have a good knowledge of our local creepy crawly creatures
Now this was more than a little surprising as my school is located in a busy street in metropolitan Bangkok. Needless to say, chemistry was temporarily abandoned as all of the pupils and I rushed to the window to watch the snake. It was a little stressed and tried to get into the window, much to the shock of the language learners seated by the thin pane of glass.
I sprang into action, ran down the stairs, pupils in tow; and leaving them in the car park, I ran into the language school and tried to catch the snake before anyone did it any harm. By the time I got there it had headed into the large tree in the school grounds where anxious pupils were keeping an eye on it.
Execute Plan B. I rushed out of the language school and proceeded to climb the tree in hot pursuit. But as anyone who's ever seen a snake in a tree knows, their camouflage ability is incredible. Sadly, we lost sight of the beautiful creature and retired back to our room for snake discussions.
The snake we saw was a one-meter Golden Tree Snake, one of the 'flying' species of snake that inhabits Southeast Asia. It has the remarkable ability to leap out of trees and glide through the air for considerable distances. It does this in pursuit of prey or to evade predators. The species' ability to 'fly' is certainly an amazing adaptation.
Query: If a one-meter-plus snake lives near a busy school, how many other snakes are out and about in urban Bangkok? Only last week, a friend brought in a snakeskin from her garden. Two encounters in such a short space of time suggest that there are many more snakes in the metro area than we realize.
Golden Tree Snakes are harmless back-fanged snakes, but White Lipped Tree Vipers are also common in gardens, and these are venomous. To encounter one is highly unlikely, as seeing them is virtually impossible due to their camouflage abilities, but it pays to be vigilant.
If you do see one, do not touch it or try to kill it, as this is the easiest way to get bitten. Simply admire the wonderful creature, photograph it and then leave it alone. You'll probably never see it again. Send the picture to me for identification.
Thailand has at least 175 different species of snakes of which 48 are venomous. Many of these are sea snakes; all sea snakes are venomous. Yet unless you dive or snorkel regularly, you will rarely encounter them.
The majority of land snakes that you may see are harmless unless they are cobras which, due to their hood, are easily identifiable. Either way, don't try to touch, catch or kill any snake. Leave them alone and they'll leave you alone; respect them and they'll respect you.
And definitely let them live, as they are import in food chains and as a natural control of pests, such as rats and mice.
King Cobra and the Pythons
Thailand is very privileged because it is home to the longest snake in the world, the Reticulated Python (Python reticulatus); and the longest venomous snake in the world, the King Cobra.
This Python is an egg layer that lays between 60 and 100 eggs (that's a lot of baby crawlies), which take an average of 88 days to hatch. Attacks are rare, but the species has been responsible for several human fatalities in both the wild and captivity. And while not venomous, large pythons can inflict very serious bites, sometimes requiring stitches.
The reticulated python, although not as heavy as the anaconda, holds the world record for length, with the longest ever found being just short of 10 meters. There has never been found a snake over 10 meters, but who knows what mysteries are still to be discovered in the jungles of Thailand.
Their skins drives a thriving commercial market, and currently there are about 5,300 commercial python farms throughout Southeast Asia.
The longest King Cobra on record was just over five and a half meters long and was found near Chang Island. They are snake eaters and live only in the jungle; and therefore re not regularly encountered by people. But on the off chance you see one, count yourself very, very lucky and then turn and leave!
Although called a cobra, the King Cobra does not belong to the same genus (Naja) as the so-called "true" cobras. It is peculiar in that it feeds almost exclusively on other snakes, which is reflected in both its common name and its genus name, Ophiophagus, which is Greek for "snake-eater".
The King Cobra can lift as much as a third of its body off the ground. Thus, a 18 foot King Cobra could actually look down on the average standing human being. Like other snakes bearing the cobra name, the King Cobra can flatten its neck, giving it the distinctive appearance of a hood. There are two types of antivenin made specifically to treat King Cobra envenomations (bites). The Red Cross in Thailand manufactures one antivenin, and the Central Research Institute in India manufactures the other.
Snakes are a marvel of evolution and are the most successful and widespread predators on Earth. They have existed almost unchanged for millions of years and have a valuable roll in the majority of the Earth's ecosystems. So appreciate them, admire them and leave them alone.
If they are invading your homes or gardens, contact me and I'll come and remove them.
David Canavan has an MSc in Behavioural Ecology and teaches science, maths and ICT at Garden International School. David is fascinated by science and loves animals, especially the dangerous kind; the more dangerous the better. You may contact David at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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Last modified: June 5, 2007