a publication of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve

Vol 10 No 1
Dec 2002

snakes: myth & reality

fell & fly: about poems

finding & growing native plants
merope angulata

glochidion littorale

the kingfisher experience

wetland rainforest
the sungei buloh mangroves

how sungei
buloh 'got' me

world environment
5 jun 02

back home again
myth & reality

There are some amazing snake facts to be learnt at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve as nick baker a research volunteer, found out

For thousands of years, snakes have been hated, persecuted and killed for no other reason than fear and ignorance. Why do snakes provoke such extreme reactions? It may be that we are genetically-programmed to be cautious of snakes. Indeed, a sense of caution is recommended if you find an unknown species of snake. But here in the 21st Century, supposedly an age of enlightenment, there are still many people with 15th Century fears and superstitions of these fascinating creatures. It is a simple matter for people to recognise a few species of snake, and learn to appreciate their beauty.

So what about the snakes of Sungei Buloh? Well, the commonest snake is certainly the Dog-faced Water Snake (Cerberus rynchops). This is a common species of the mangrove habitat: it emerges after dark to feed on small fish, but you may sometimes encounter this species on overcast days beneath the Main Bridge.
It is worth noting that less than 20% of snake species are considered venomous enough to be a hazard to us humans.

As many volunteers helping with research work have found to their delight, these snakes are easily handled; though the larger specimens may attempt a harmless bite when handled, there is little to fear from these creatures.

The commonest arboreal snake in the reserve is probably the Paradise Tree Snake (Chrysopelea paradisi). This beautiful snake species, patterned in green and yellow, is rather shy and will not hesitate to move away quickly when disturbed. If there was any superstition about 'flying snakes' then this is the species to blame; snakes of the Chrysopelea genus are able to dorso-laterally flatten their bodies to allow them to glide long distances from tree to tree in a sinuous snake-like motion.

Also present in Sungei Buloh is the handsome Oriental Whip Snake (Ahaetulla prasina). A startlingly vivid green colour, this species can be found in both mangrove and secondary habitats. In Singpaore, this beautiful, harmless species is often killed by the public in parks and gardens because it is believed to be dangerous. Such a sad end for one of nature's most stunning snakes.

Bronzebacks are to be found here too, the most common being the Painted Bronzeback (Dendrelaphis pictus). This brown, cream and turquoise species may adopt a defensive posture if disturbed and attempts to snap at a intruder. But when you consider this species is so lim that its mouth measures less than 1cm across, you realise how brave it is to bluff in this manner.

What of the Cobras, Vipers and Pythons? Well, the Black Spitting Cobra (Naja sumatrana) can be found in the reserve, but extremely wary of people and will not hesitate to flee, while the non-venomous Reticulated Python (Python reticulatus) is common but elusive. Perhaps the most venomous snake here is the rare Shore Pit Viper (Trimeresurus purpureomaculatus) which lies coiled on the branches of mangrove trees; but consider that this species has only been sighted three times in the last year, you realise how rare it is.

Finally, do you know that Sungei Buloh has the longest snake species on earth, the Reticulated Python, as well as one of the shortest, the Common or Brahminy Blind Snake (Ramphotyphiops braminus). This tiny species reaches a maximum length of just 17cm, and most specimens are less than 10cm. This is a burrowing species with tiny, virtually useless eyes. Amazingly, this is the only snake species in the world to reproduce by parthenogenesis; this means that all the snakes are female and that reproduction is asexual. When the blind snake feels like having children, she just goes right ahead and has as many as she likes!
© Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve