The Blind Snakes

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Brahminy blind snake (Ramphotyphlops braminus) spotted by RickBohler

All snakes belong to the suborder known as Serpentes. And all of the living snakes belong to one of two infraorders within this suborder, the Alethinophidia and Scolecophidia. The majority of snakes belong to the Alethinophidia, and these are the ones most people are familiar with and see most often. Currently 15 families make up this infraorder. Members of the infraorder Scolecophidia, are less well known and are not often seen. They are all considered non-venomous and harmless to humans and pets. There are only 3 families that make up this infraorder. These snakes are extremely fascinating and often go unseen or un-noticed. But today they are the feature of this blog!

So let’s review for a moment the taxonomy of the Scolecophidia.

Kingdom: Animalia

            Phylum: Chordata

                        Class: Sauropsida

                                    Order: Squamata

                                                Suborder: Serpentes

                                                            Infraorder: Scolecophidia

                                                                        Family: Anomalepidae 

                                                                        Family: Scolecophidia 

                                                                        Family: Typhlopidae 

 

The snakes that make up the infraorder Scolecopidae are called the blind snakes or thread snakes. Most range from 10 to 100 cm in length, but they may be as small as 2 cm. All are fossorial spending much of their life underground, which accounts for the lack of knowledge about these small, secretive snakes. There are currently three families with only twelve genera. They can be found around the world in sub-tropical to tropical habitats. In addition to being relatively small, blind snakes generally have blunt heads, cylindrical bodies, very smooth shiny scales and a short tail.

Blind snakes have vestigial eyes that are covered by scales. Since they spend most of the time buried in the soil, they do not need to see and locate their food by smell.

Family Anomalepididae

This family is known as the primitive blind snakes or dawn blind snakes. They usually get no bigger than 30 cm. They can be found in Central and northwestern South America with a few disjunct populations in southeastern and northeastern South America. Four genera make up this family: Anomalepis, Helminthophis, Leiotyphlops and Typhlophis.

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This blind snake, (Helminthophis frontalis), is endemic to Costa Rica and Panama. Spotted by Juan Di Triani.

Family Leptotyphlopidae

Called the slender blind snakes or thread snakes, these small snakes rarely exceed 30 cm in length. Only 2 genera currently make up this family, Leptotyphlops and Rhinoleptis. They can be found in the Americas, Africa and Asia. They are burrowing snakes and feed upon ants and termites. These snakes produce pheromones that allow them to feed among ant and termite mounds without being attacked. They also lack any teeth in the upper jaw.

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These Texas blind snakes (Leptotyphlops dulcis) were spotted by OkieHerper.

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This New Mexico blind snake (Leptotyphlops dulcis dissectus) looks very worm like. Spotted by Aaron_G

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New Mexico blind snake (Leptotyphlops dissectus) spotted by KevinBBabbitt.

Family Typhlopidae

Named the long-tailed blind snakes, there are 6 genera that make up this family. They can be found in most sub-tropical to tropical regions around the world especially in Australia, Africa, Madagascar, Asia, the Pacific Islands tropical America and southeastern Europe. They have light-detecting black eye spots, but the eyes are mostly vestigial. They do have teeth in the upper jaw and they have a modified rostral scale on the tip of the nose used to help burrow. They also have a hardened horn-like scale at the tip of the tail.

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Blind snake (Ramphotyphlops nigrescens) from Australia spotted by BrentDunn.

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This Ramphotyphlops diversus spotted by ScottHarte, clearly shows the specialized rostral scale used to help burrow.

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Here is a Schlegel’s blind snake (Rhinotyphlops schlegeli) spotted in South Africa by GeoffreyPalmer.

Native to Africa and parts of Asia, the Brahminy blind snake can now be found in many other parts of the world including Florida in the United States. It is currently considered the most widespread snake species in the world. Often mistaken as an earthworm, this snake is also called the flowerpot snake because of its many introductions around the world by the plant trade. This species is also very successful because of a few unique reproductive tricks. It can lay eggs or may give live birth. All Brahminy blind snakes are female and reproduce unisexually (parthenogenesis). Up to 8 genetically identical offspring may be produced by a single (pun intended!) female.

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Brahminy blind snake (Ramphotyphlops braminus) spotted in India by adarsha.joisa

So the next time you purchase plants from the nursery and notice a worm as you are transplanting it, take a second, closer look. You might find you have a very tiny snake instead!

Specially adapted for life underground, blind snakes are an interesting group of creatures. From the specialized digging scales, the uses of pheromones in some species to allow them to safely invade ant and termite mounds and the bizarre reproductive strategies of the Brahminy blind snake, these are truly amazing animals!

Lisa Powers

For info on other species check out these features -

Pythons 

Sea Snakes 

Vipers 

Colubrids