We discovered this snake from under the ground while digging, the same time when this species was being named. That is, it was not known that such a species existed, taxonomically. It was in 2007 that we first found it, and it was the same year that David Gower and Jasmin Winkler from the Natural History Museum, London, published about the new species in a scientific journal.

Now, that may sound like that this is a very rare snake. No! Though this snake is endemic [native and confined to a region] to the low altitudes of the southwest Western Ghats region, it is common locally and may be of “least concern”. However, the reason that it didn’t even have a name of its own until recent, should be of a “grave concern”. It means that zoological research in the country may not have gained much momentum, at least like it was in the british days. Or why did this local species need the british community once again, to find it, study it, and name it properly?

There are obviously many more species to be discovered, named and studied. Such a process can eventually help in conservation of that particular species, and also the natural balance of the environment.

xylophis captaini

A few months after we found it out, we had posted an article on this snake, which was unidentified then [link: nature, bounded and bonded]. Since we had found the snake on 2 different days, both times while digging in the garden, we had mentioned that it might be a common but rarely observed snake.

xylophis captaini snake

“captain’s wood snake”
There is another interesting twist to the story. When we found the snake, we had cross checked books and online articles on snakes. None of those sources talked about this rarely studied group. Then we emailed the photographs to Ashok Captain, whose contributions to the knowledge of Indian snakes are remarkable. Probably the email never reached him, and we didn’t have a chance to know further about the snake. Recently we emailed the snake photographs to some other zoologists and specialists and one of them, Dr. K. P. Dinesh of Zoological Survey of India, correctly identified the family of the snake as Xylophis. Once the family was found, a google search led me to the recent paper by David Gower, which zoomed in on the species we had! Now, the funny side of the story is that, this snake was named by the authors as xylophis captaini or the captain’s wood snake, in recognition of the contributions by Ashok Captain!!

xylophis captaini

The captain’s wood snake, often burrows under loose or moist earth. It is a great jumper too. Apart from these observations, we found that it plays dead to avoid any attention, as a strategy for survival! In our previous articles we had talked about the signature spiders and the red whiskered bulbuls feigning death as a survival technique. Nature and the life it holds, are far intelligent, impressive, and exciting than we think 🙂

xylophis captaini snake

Date: Dec 2007
Location: @ home, Kottayam, Kerala, India
Camera: Nikon D80 + Tamron SP AF90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens

Gower, D.J. and J.D. Winkler, 2007: Taxonomy of The Indian snake Xylophis Beddome (Serpentes: Caenophidia), with description of a new species. Hamadryad, 31, 2, 315-329 [link: pdf].


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