Indotyphlops albiceps

White-headed Blind Snake Indotyphlops albiceps งูดินหัวขาว malaysia
White-headed Blind Snake in peninsular Malaysia (© Evan Quah)

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. Slender with little change in girth from the tail to the head. Body is dark brown above and paler below. Head, neck, and tongue are white. Tail comes to a point at the very end.

Relevant scale rows: 20 scale rows at the middle of the body. 1 preocular scale.

Similar Species: Brahminy Blind Snake has a snout that is only lightened near the end.
Slender Worm Snake never has a fully white head and only has 18 midbody scale rows.
Flower’s Blind Snake lacks the white head, has glands scattered around the head scales, 18 midbody scale rows, and 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.

Range: West Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Hong Kong.

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 lowland forest.

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. Some examples of these snakes are below:

You may notice that those four photos from Thailand look substantially different from the photos 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 this central portion of their range (Bangkok and Chiang Mai) may be a different species, with the old scientific name Typhlops malaisei possibly playing a role in this distinction.

I’ve noted that my 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 (most of which are gone in Bangkok), but the pale-headed snakes in Thailand are found in open city parks. To further complicate the picture, some researchers think that Slender Blind Snakes don’t have pale heads in Thailand.

Are the pale-headed blind snakes in Bangkok just a variation on the White-headed Blind Snakes? Are they actually Slender Worm Snakes? Are they some other unidentified species? Until samples are collected and full scale counts and potentially dissection or genetic study is done, 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