Science News

Sri Lankan snake in India points to ancient land links


doi:10.1038/nindia.2015.3 Published online 14 January 2015

The Sri Lankan flying snake seen in India.

© Bubesh Guptha 

Researchers have for the first time found a snake endemic to Sri Lanka in southern India, suggesting ancient land links between the two countries now separated by a strait1.

The mildly venomous tropical snake Chrysopelea taprobanica Smith,1943 was found in the core area of Seshachalam Biosphere Reserve of Andhra Pradesh. Wildlife biologist Bubesh Guptha spotted the snake during a field survey in November 2013 on a tree in Chamala area, 25 km away from Lord Venkateshwara temple in Tirumala. It was different from snakes he had seen earlier — about three feet, with 45 to 50 block lines, big eyes, skin patterned in ash color, and an olive green abdomen.

“Its colours and patterns were different, its lining was different,” he says. He climbed the tree to catch the snake and study it. “I took so many photos,” Guptha recounts. Later, he spotted the same species twice in different locations in the hills, which suggested a fair local population. “The connectivity between India and Sri Lanka 17,000 years ago probably allowed the movement between these two regions,” Guptha says.

The snake species of the Colubridae family eats bats, lizards, geckos, smaller snake species, skirls and birds. It can jump nearly 5 meters, and vanish in a jiffy.

Bubesh Guptha in the Eastern Ghats.
Guptha conducted the study in collaboration with Veerappan Deepak of Centre for Ecological Studies, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore; Simon Maddock of The Natural History Museum, London and N.V. Sivaram Prasad. Earlier, in 2000, V.Santharam from Rishi Valley Education center had first photographed the snake but its specimen was not collected till 2013.

This first record of the snake is pointer to the rich biodiversity of the Eastern Ghats, which, compared to the Western Ghats, is still largely unexplored. Guptha feels the Eastern Ghats have immense biodiversity and deeper studies could unearth many more rare species.

Within three years, he has published two new records, two re-discovered species, two new-locality records and many rare species from Seshachalam Hills. These include the Slender Coral Snake Calliophis melanurus, Elliot’s Shieldtail Uropeltis ellioti, Brown Vine Snake Ahaetulla pulverulenta, Nagarjunasagar Racer Coluber bholanathi, Common Banded Peacock Papilio crino, Gooty Tarantula Poecilotheria Metallica and the Yellow Collared Wolf Snake Lycodon Flavicollis.


1.  Guptha, B. et al. First record of Chrysopelea taprobanica Smith, 1943 (Squamata: Colubridae) from India. Check List (2015) doi: 10.15560/11.1.1523