English Name: Checkered keelback
Scientific Name : Xenochrophis piscator
Family : Coloubridae
Tamil Name :Thanni pambu
Description: Head broder than neck. It comes in a variety of body coloration. Some are glossy olive green, olive brown, yellow, brown, gray or black usually with a checkered body pattern. Its pattern may vary from light markings to bold, black, closely set spot or checks. Region between cheeks sometimes marked with dark shades of pink. Its underside is glossy white or yellowish white.
Distribution and status. Common. It is found throughout India and rest of South Asia except the Andaman and Nicobar islands. Present In the higher hills in the Ghats and the Himalayas. Darker forms are common and appearances and habits are similar.
Habitat. It is found in and around freshwater bodies and paddy fields.
Habits. It is active by day and night . This is perhaps the most plentiful snake in India. It turns aggressive when threatened or cornered. When disturbed it raises it head like Cobra thus mimicking it. Many are killed on roads after the first rains. They bite when handled but become tame after sometime. A curious habit is this snake plays dead when disturbed by a predator like a mongoose.
Food: Its young feed on frog eggs, tadpoles and water insects. Adults eat fish, frogs’ occasional rodents and birds.
Life cycle. The female is longer in total length but has a short tail. It lays up to 90 eggs between December-March in rat tunnels, holes in wells, walls or field embankments and stays with them until they hatch in 60-70 days. Its adults grow up to 60 cm in length. Both males and females stay together for some time after breeding. Eggs are laid in clusters. They bite when stepped on or caught. When excited it flattens head, extends neck ribs, and rears up. It is a predator of small frogs and fishes thus forming an important of the freshwater food chain.
Role in the environment: The skins are predominant items in skin trade. Several populations have been wiped out by over exploitation. Currently there is less exploitation after the enactment of the wildlife protection Act, 1972.
Photo source: Dr. J. Subramanean