The snake world is full of species that “break the mold” – none more so than a Southeast Asian import that sometimes appears in the trade, the tentacled snake.
The care of this snake differs greatly from that of all others, and I’ll devote a full article to it shortly. For now, I’d like to introduce the species to those of you who may be looking for a new challenge.
The tentacled snake is unique among snakes in its possession of 2 fleshy tentacles (adjacent to the nostrils), the function of which is still unknown. It has been suggested that they have a sensory function, detect water movement, lure prey or break up the outline of the head.
This inactive snake resembles a water-logged root, an effect that is heightened by its color, rigid posture, habit of remaining anchored to sunken branches, and the covering of algae that grows on the scales. It rarely swims, waiting instead for fish to approach closely before striking.
Completely aquatic, this species lacks the broad ventral scales of terrestrial snakes and is helpless on land. When disturbed, it becomes rigid and immobile (in Thailand, it is known as the “Board-like Snake”). The nostrils can be sealed to exclude water, and it may remain submerged for 30 minutes before surfacing to breathe. Tentacled snakes are thought to aestivate by burrowing into the mud during droughts.
Tentacled snakes produce mild venom that is effective against the fishes and tadpoles upon which they feed. The venom has not been shown to be dangerous to humans – the two people I know of who have been bitten experienced mild swelling that disappeared within a few hours.
The subfamily to which this species belongs, Homalopsinae, contains a number of aquatic snakes that frequent unique habitats and hunt in unusual ways. For example, the white-banded mangrove snake, Fordonia leucobalia, hunts crabs on tidal mud flats in Southeast Asia and northern Australia. It is quite effective at overcoming this unusual prey – utilizing constriction and crab-specific venom before finally tearing off the crab’s legs. It may even employ its oddly blunted teeth to help crush its victims’ hard shells – the only snake known to use teeth in such a fashion.
Further information on tentacled snake natural history, as well as a picture, is posted at: