Indotyphlops albiceps

White-headed Blind Snake Indotyphlops albiceps ventiane laos งูดินหัวขาว Ngu-din Hua Kao
White-headed Blind Snake in Laos (© Alexandre Teynié)

English name: White-headed Blind Snake
Scientific name: Indotyphlops albiceps (formerly Ramphotyphlops albiceps)
Thai name: งูดินหัวขาว (Ngu-din Hua Kao)

Description: Up to 30cm long. May appear to be a worm at first glance, but can be distinguished by its small shiny scales, eyes, and flicking tongue.  Extremely slender, with little change in girth from the tail to the head.  Tail comes to a point at the very end. Body is dark brown above and paler below with 20 scale rows at the middle of the body. Head, neck, and tongue are white, or potentially pale.

Similar Species: Brahminy Blind Snake is less slender and its snout is only lightened near the end.
Slender Worm Snake has a more distinct eye, 18 midbody scale rows, and never has a fully white head.
Diard’s Blind Snake is much larger and does not have the pale or white head.
Roxane’s Blind Snake lacks the white head and has a stouter body.
Flower’s Blind Snake is not as slender, lacks the white head, has 18 midbody scale rows, and has a blunt tail tip.

Blind snake species are difficult to distinguish from each other, so if you need more specific identifying markers you should use this key to the blind snakes in Thailand.

Habitat: This burrowing snake spends its life underground and can be found in loose humid soil, usually under debris or logs. Appears to prefer primary broad-leafed woodland.

Place in the ecosystem: Helps control termite and ant populations by eating their larvae. Is eaten by larger fossorial snakes and other animals.

Danger to humans: Blind snakes are harmless – they have no venom and their mouths are too small to bite a human. When uncovered or picked up they tend to respond by wiggling vigorously, emitting a small amount of smelly musk, and attempting to stab the disturber with their sharp tail tip.

Conservation status and threats: No known conservation threats. Due to its secretive habits this snake is rarely seen in the wild, so actual status of its populations is unknown.

Interesting facts: In Bangkok I repeatedly found small, slender blind snakes with pale heads. They appeared only when conditions were especially wet. I was told by other herpers that these were White-headed Blind Snakes and posted them as such for years without any correction. Some examples of these snakes are below:

You may notice that those four photos from Thailand look substantially different than the earlier five photos from Laos and Hong Kong at the top of this account, with the non-Thai snakes displaying a strikingly white head and being somewhat larger. Some experts have suggested that White-headed Blind Snakes in the southwestern portion of their range (Bangkok and Chiang Mai) may be a different species than those in the eastern and northern portions (Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Hong Kong), with the old scientific name Typhlops malaisei possibly playing a role in this distinction.

However, I also have noticed that these pale-headed Thai snakes look similar to the pale-headed Slender Worm Snakes (Indotyphlops porrectus) that I’ve seen in India and Bangladesh. Slender Worm Snakes have fewer midbody scales rows, but this is difficult to count without killing the snake. Also, White-headed Blind Snakes tend to be found in woodlands, but the pale-headed snakes in Thailand are found in open city parks.

Also interesting is old records of White-headed Blind Snakes from Malaysia that look like the snakes from Laos and Hong Kong.

On the other hand, some researchers have said that Slender Blind Snakes don’t have pale heads in Thailand. So….are the pale-headed blind snakes in Bangkok just a variation on the White-headed Blind Snakes? Are they actually Slender Worm Snakes? Or are they some other unidentified species? Until someone begins collecting samples and conducting full scale counts and potentially dissection or genetic study, we won’t know the answer.

References:
The University of Hong Kong: Ramphotyphlops albiceps
Typhlops roxaneae, a new species of Thai blindsnake from the T. diardii species group, with a synopsis of the Typhlopidae of Thailand
Mourits Horst Løvholt and Mathias Holm, personal communication
Alex Pyron, personal communication
Jeff Boundy, personal communication
Van Wallach, personal communication
A Field Guide to the Reptiles of South-East Asia
Snakes of Thailand and their Husbandry