Thursday, July 24, 2008

Shieldtail snakes

The Mahdei Wildlife Sanctuary of Goa in particular and the Mahdei Bio region, that constitutes the proposed Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary of Karnataka is home to a diversity of lesser known herpetofauna, which includes the more glamorous Indian rock python and the King Cobra amongst snakes to the recently discovered Goan Caecilian amongst amphibians. With species like the Malabar Gliding frog, Indian Draco and Hump nose Pit viper being documented from these forests, has proved that this region is a haven for reptiles and amphibians that are characteristic of the Western Ghats rainforests.

This diversity is supported and sustained by the myriad of rivulets and streams that nurture the Mahdei bio region and is recognized as a Global Biodiversity hotspot.

But there still is a lacuna of knowledge about an array of species and those like the group of burrowing Shieldtail snakes, which are endemic to the Western Ghats of India feature chiefly amongst these species whose ecology and habitat preference is lest known merely from a few observations.

Shieldtail snakes are strictly forest species of burrowing snakes that are usually encountered under humus or leaf litter in dense forest habitats of the Western Ghats forests and are known to be highly elusive in most of their range. Encountered in thickly forested areas or on the fringes of forest habitats and open patches, Shieldtail snakes can be observed and studied only in the 4 months of monsoon period in the field, after which they burrow under the forest floor, sometimes even 2-3 feet in the soil. With a slender body and head region evolved to burrow beneath the soil, some species also have a tail that appears to have been cut in a slant manner like a shield, giving this family of snakes the name Shieldtails. That the exact reason of this evolved tail is still not known is a fact and needs to be studied to understand the behavior and ecology of this family of forest snakes.

Being inoffensive burrowing snakes, shieldtails are non venomous in nature and primarily feed on earthworms. They are nocturnal in nature and are known to forage on the forest floor at night in some cases, especially during heavy rain showers. The predators of these snakes include wild boar, birds and other species of snakes.

The documentation of 3 confirmed species viz. the Pied Belly Shieldtail (Melanophidium punctatum), the Large scaled Shieldtail ( Uropeltis macrolepis macrolepis) and the Elliot’s Shieldtail (Uropeltis ellioti) in the Mahdei wildlife sanctuary has given hope that more species of Shieldtail snakes can be found in these bio rich forests and await recognition and confirmation. Of the three, The Pied Belly Shieldtail ( Melanophidium punctatum) is a rare species and is known only from a few localities in the Western Ghats of India. With a recorded 30 plus species endemic to the Western Ghats of India, researchers working under the guidance of Rajendra Kerkar of the Mahdei Abhiyaan are confident that more species will be documented in due course of time. An attempt is thus being made to scientifically catalogue as well as photo document these lesser known snakes and create awareness about their ecology amongst the masses as well as the academic community.

1 comment:

Krishna Kulkarni said...

Amazing.. Thanks Nirmal :)