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Keel-bellied Water Snake

Bitia hydroides

Keel-bellied Water Snake bitia hydoroides

Keel-bellied Water Snake moving towards mudskipper hole in Malaysia. Photo courtesy of M.A. Muin.

Keel-bellied Water Snake Bitia hydroides

Keel-bellied Water Snake killed in Malaysia by fisherman who mistook it for a venomous sea snake. Photo courtesy of M.A. Muin.

Keel-bellied Water Snake Bitia hydroides

Head shot of Keel-bellied Water Snake. Photo courtesy of M.A. Muin.

Keel-bellied Water Snake Bitia hydroides

Close-up of head and scales of Keel-bellied Water Snake. Photo courtesy of John Murphy.


English name: Keel-bellied Water Snake
Scientific name: Bitia hydroides
Thai name: Ngu Pak-Kwang Tong San

Description: To 90 cm long. Average body is slightly flattened vertically, with a short tail that narrows to a point. Head is small and blunt with bulging grey eyes. Body is generally cream/white turning to yellow on the top, with black bands. Belly is white, with unusual reduced and keeled scales.

Similar Species:
Venomous Sea Snakes of the Elapidae family can look quite similar to this harmless species, though they have blunter, more paddle-like tails that don’t narrow down to an elongated point.
Little Wart Snake is heavy-bodied, has a distinctly different head shape, and skin that hangs loosely on the body.

Habitat: This species is only found in coastal river mouths and nearby mudflats, though it may hunt in deeper waters. They are proficient burrowers and may spend most of their time in the mud.

Contribution to the ecosystem: Helps control fish populations in the mudflats, especially mudskippers (gobies).

Danger to humans: Though quite similar to a sea snake in appearance, this species is completely harmless to humans

Conservation status and threats: Less than 200 specimens of the Keel-bellied Water Snake have ever been found. However, those specimens were found over a wide range, and in at least one locality were extremely common (with over 100 of the snakes found in a few months). It is currently believed that the Keel-bellied Water Snake is simply difficult to locate, rather than rare, but the infrequent observations of the species make it difficult to determine its true abundance. Please contact this website if you have any sightings or photos of this species.

Interesting facts: The Keel-bellied Water Snake has enlarged palentine teeth, an unusual characteristic shared by only one completely unrelated species of snake. The reason behind these enlarged teeth is unknown.

References:
IUCN Red List: Bitia hydroides
The Reptile Database: Bitia hydroides
Morphology, Reproduction, and Diet of the Marine Homalopsine Snake Bitia hydroides in Peninsular Malaysia
Thailand Office of Environmental Planning and Policy: A Checklist of Amphibians and Reptiles in Thailand
Michael Cota, Personal Communication.

 

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