Jun 22
Photo of leaf-scaled sea snake

Leaf-scaled sea snake (Aipysurus foliosquama)

Species: Leaf-scaled sea snake (Aipysurus foliosquama)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: The leaf-scaled sea snake is able to remain underwater for up to two hours before resurfacing for air.

Named for the characteristic leaf-like shape of its scales, the leaf-scaled sea snake is a relatively small snake which spends its entire life at sea. Like other sea snakes, it shows a number of adaptations to its aquatic lifestyle, including a flattened, paddle-like tail for swimming, valves in the nostrils which prevent water entering the lung, and a gland under the tongue which excretes excess salt from the body. The leaf-scaled sea snake lives in shallow waters and gives birth to live young. It feeds on small coral reef fish, which it immobilises with its venom.

The leaf-scaled sea snake has one of the most restricted ranges of any sea snake, occurring in just two reefs in the Timor Sea, and occasionally being seen off the northwest coast of Australia. This species was once one of the most commonly seen sea snakes in its range, but has not been recorded in surveys since 2001. The exact reasons for this are unclear, but could be to do with rising sea temperatures and the degradation of its reef habitat, which in turn reduces prey availability. All sea snakes are legally protected in Australia, and measures are underway to monitor and reduce any impacts of fisheries on sea snake species. One of the reefs the leaf-scaled sea snake inhabits is a nature reserve, but unfortunately none of the habitat management plans for this area specifically target this rare marine reptile.


Find out more about sea snakes at IUCN – Sea snakes.

See images of the leaf-scaled sea snake on ARKive.

Find out more about other sea snake species on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Feb 9
Photo of female golden lancehead flicking tongue

Golden lancehead (Bothropoides insularis)

Species: Golden lancehead (Bothropoides insularis)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: The golden lancehead is unique to a tiny island off the coast of Brazil, where has a total range of just 0.43 square kilometres.

The golden lancehead is a highly venomous pitviper with heat-sensitive pits on its face which help it to detect prey. Although its mainland relatives feed mainly on rodents, this island species has switched to a diet of birds. To prevent its prey from flying away before the snake’s highly toxic venom can take effect, the golden lancehead holds it in its mouth after biting it. This snake is unusual in that it appears to exist as three genders: males, females, and ‘intersex’ females, which have both female and male reproductive organs.

The golden lancehead has a small population which is entirely restricted to one tiny island, making it particularly vulnerable to any threats. Its forest habitat is being lost due to clearance and burning, and the snakes themselves are collected illegally for the wild animal trade. Conservation efforts are underway to study and monitor the golden lancehead, and there are plans to breed it in captivity and research the potential medicinal uses of its venom. Educational programmes and more effective enforcement may also help protect this fascinating snake.

Find out more about conservation efforts for the golden lancehead at Neotropical Snakes Conservation.

Find out more about snakes on the ARKive snakes page.

See images and videos of the golden lancehead on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Feb 4

The 10th of February 2013 will mark the start of Chinese New Year, and around the world many people will be taking part in colourful celebrations to welcome in the Year of the Snake. The snake is the 6th of the 12 animal signs in the Chinese Zodiac, and those born in the year of the snake are said to be wise, calm and responsible.

According to ancient Chinese wisdom, a snake in the house is seen as a good omen and a sign that the family will not go hungry. Snakes are well known for their ability to swallow large prey, and after eating an impala whole, I don’t think this African rock python will be hungry any time soon either!

African rock python photo

During Chinese New Year the colour red is worn as it is considered to symbolise good fortune and joy. Red also represents fire and is thought to scare away evil spirits. Being characterised by its bright red belly, Kirtland’s snake is sure to fit in well at any New Year Celebration!

Kirtland's snake photo

Chinese New Year is tied to the lunar calendar, with the celebrations starting at the arrival of the new moon and continuing for 15 days. In Australia, the orange-naped snake is also commonly known as the ‘moon snake’. Although this species is venomous, it generally isn’t considered a danger to humans.

Orange-naped snake photo

There are several different stories regarding how the 12 animals were chosen for the Chinese Zodiac, and why they appear in the order that they do. One of the most popular tales tells of how the Jade Emperor declared that the animals must race across a fast flowing river, and that the 12 years of the zodiac would be named after the winners. Snakes are certainly excellent swimmers, with some species adopting an entirely aquatic lifestyle, such as the olive-brown sea snake.

Olive-brown sea snake photo

Chinese Year of the Snake – Get Involved!

Celebrate the Chinese Year of the Snake the wild way by joining us on Facebook and Twitter every day this week.

What does the Year of the Snake have in store for you? We’ll reveal all on Facebook! *Like* us to open your fortune cookie each day.

Love a challenge? Why not join our daily snake hunt on Twitter? Each day we’ll set you on a mission to hunt down some awesome snake photos and videos from ARKive. The winners can pick their favourite ARKive photos to go on the homepage. So what are you waiting for… start the snake hunt.

Here’s your first clue: Snake, rattle and roll – find and tweet a video of a rattlesnake shaking its thing! We’ll be waiting on Twitter to see if you track it down!

We have also launched a brand new snakes page full of amazing snake facts, photos a videos – make sure you check it out!

Claire Lewis, ARKive Researcher

Feb 1

Forget about snakes on a plane, we have snakes on a page – a blog page! These fascinating legless carnivorous reptiles have featured as terrible man killers in works of fiction for centuries. More often than not this reputation is unfounded and most snakes will actively avoid human contact. Different species of snake vary dramatically in shape, size and colour and are found in a range of different habitats on 6 out of the 7 continents in the world – from dry deserts to lush jungles and even under the sea.

Unsurprisingly, it is the species of snake that are potentially deadly to human that get the most attention (even if there are no reported cases) and we have no shortage of them on ARKive. Here is ARKive’s Top 10 Deadliest Snakes.

Black mamba

Photo of two black male mambas fighting

A double dose of deadly – two black male mambas fight it out for dominance

The black mamba is a long and extremely venomous snake found in Southern Africa. It gets its name from its distinctive black mouth.  If its neurotoxic venom was not enough for you, the black mamba is also highly aggressive and very fast – not a good mix if you were to stumble into its territory.

Olive-brown sea snake

Photo of an olive-brown sea snake

Danger in the deep -the olive-brown sea snake

The olive-brown sea snake is specially adapted to a life at sea with special glands located in the mouth that allow it to get rid of excess salt. This snake is also somewhat docile making its enzyme-loaded venom (that digests prey from the inside)  slightly less terrifying.

King cobra

King cobra photo

The king cobra rests…for now

The forest dwelling king cobra lives the longest out of all venomous snakes – the same can’t be said about its prey: other snakes! At least it will give you a warning if it feels threatened by your presence – it growls!

Namaqua dwarf adder

Namaqua dwarf adder photo

A hidden danger waiting to strike – the Namaqua dwarf adder

The Namaqua dwarf adder is found in southern Africa and is the smallest venomous snake in the world, but don’t think that means its not afraid to use it long hinged fangs…



The adders in the UK have British venom in the land!

As Britain’s only venomous snake, the adder automatically wins the title of Britain’s deadliest snake. Though as it is a somewhat shy and timid species you would have to be quite lucky to see one and very unlucky to get bitten by one.

Horned sea snake

Horned sea snake photo

That look says it all really

Being on the receiving end of a stare from the horned sea snake would be a scary experience indeed. I doubt knowing that it was also one of the most toxic sea snakes would ease your mind but there have actually no recorded cases of bites to humans.

Green anaconda

Green anaconda photo

The green anaconda showing that you don’t need to be venomous to be deadly

You don’t need to be venomous to be deadly and the green anaconda, the world largest snake, relies solely on constricting its prey to suffocate it so it may be swallowed whole. Despite what you may have seen in various films, attacks on humans are very rare – though there are reported cases.

Arabian horned viper

Arabian horned viper in desert habitat

The desert dwelling Arabian horned viper

King of the desert, the Arabian horned viper is an ambush predator that lies and waits to strike, loading its prey with large quantities of powerful venom.

Indian cobra

Indian cobra and mongoose

An Indian cobra locked in mortal combat with a mongoose

Though often seen with snake charmers in India, the Indian cobra is probably not as easy to win over as you may think. Its neurotoxic venom can paralyse prey and in some cases even cause the heart to stop.

Caucasian viper

Caucasian viper photo

Famously venomous – the caucasian viper

The caucasian viper has some of the most potent of all vipers though it is also widely used medicinally to stop heavy bleeding. This snake will often release its prey after it has injected it and track it down later after it has conceded to the venom.

Year of the Snake 2013

In Chinese culture, the 10th February 2013 marks the start of the Year of the Snake. To celebrate, check out our fortune cookies on Facebook and join in with our daily snake hunt on Twitter.

George Bradford, ARKive Media Researcher

Jan 31

Non-native Burmese pythons are believed to be the cause of severe mammal declines in the Florida Everglades, according to new research.

Photo of Asiatic rock python (Python molurus bivittatus) resting in shallow water

Asiatic rock python (Burmese python) resting in water

Escaped pets

Also known as the Asiatic rock python, the Burmese python (Python molurus bivittatus) is a large constricting snake native to Asia. The exact origins of the pythons in the Everglades are unknown, but many have been imported into the United States through the pet trade, and some are likely to have escaped or been released into the wild.

In the absence of natural predators, the Burmese python population has exploded. Since 2000 the species has been recognised as being established across large parts of southern Florida, where it is known to eat a wide variety of mammals and birds.

Close up photo of Asiatic rock python showing heat receptors

Close up of Asiatic rock python showing heat receptors, used to detect the body heat of prey

Worrying mammal declines

In new research published in the journal PNAS, a team of scientists studied the number of live and dead mammals spotted along roads in the Everglades National Park. The team compared mammal surveys performed before and after the pythons became common, and found a strong link between the spread of the snakes and a decrease in many mammal species.

In particular, observations of racoons and opossums dropped by about 99%, while white-tailed deer fell by 94% and bobcats by 87.5%. No rabbits or foxes were seen during more recent surveys, despite rabbits being one of the most common mammals in earlier studies.

Most of these mammal species have been recorded in the diet of Burmese pythons in the Everglades National Park, with raccoons and opossums being particularly vulnerable to ambush as they often forage at the water’s edge.

Photo of Asiatic rock python with hog deer prey in water

Asiatic rock python killing hog deer

The decline in mammals was found to coincide with the spread of the pythons, with mammals being more common in areas were the pythons have only recently arrived, and most common outside of the python’s current range. The pythons are also likely to be eating other types of prey, including alligators.

We have documented pythons eating alligators, we have also documented alligators eating pythons. It depends on who is biggest during the encounter,” said Professor Michael Dorcas, one of the authors of the study.

Ecosystem impacts

The exact number of Burmese pythons in the Everglades is unknown, but their numbers are increasing year by year.

Any snake population – you are only seeing a small fraction of the numbers that are actually out there,” said Professor Dorcas. “They are a new top predator in Everglades National Park – one that shouldn’t be there.”

Photo of Asiatic rock python (Python molurus bivittatus) resting on foliage

Although a problem where it has been introduced in the US, the Asiatic rock python is classified as Near Threatened in its native Asia

Professor Dorcas has also stated that more research is needed to assess the potential impacts of the large mammal declines. “It’s not unreasonable to assume that any time we have major declines in mammals like this it’s going to have overall impacts on the ecosystem. Exactly what those are going to be, we don’t know. But it’s possible they could be fairly profound.”

Import ban

Earlier this month, it was announced that the US was poised to approve a ban on the import of Burmese pythons and on the sale of the snake across state lines. Another species that has been found in the Everglades, the African rock python, is also likely to be added to this list of “injurous” species.

Although reptile breeders and collectors have challenged the ban, and it would come too late to reverse the situation in Florida, Professor Dorcas has pointed out that it could help prevent the species from invading other suitable habitats in the United States, such as in southern Louisiana and south Texas.

Read more on this story at BBC – Pythons linked to Florida Everglades mammal decline.

View photos and videos of the Asiatic rock python on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author


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