Encounter: Whining for a Vine Snake

For three days we roamed Agumbe despairing that no snake had slithered across our path. And then we had a stroke of Last Day’s Luck!

We saw them all at Agumbe – frogs, lizards, insects, birds… even a mammal. But other than a close encounter that Sandy and I one night, the three other Ogres whined for the slithering kind, especially Green Vine Snakes (Ahaetulla nasuta), which are generally quite common in the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station (ARRS) campus.

After three dry days (not at all in the literal sense) we had a stroke of so-called Last Day’s Luck. The four of us, except Sahastra, were exploring a far corner of the campus when we heard him call out to us. He met us half-way and exclaimed, “Vine Snake!” I don’t think I have run faster in my life. I stopped only when Sahastra motioned me to, as we were close to the dry shrub in which the snake was stretched out.
The contrast a Vine snake brings to its background is impressive
The next twenty minutes were spent photographing and admiring the snake. We made sure not to agitate the snake by keeping our distance, not because we feared it but because we wanted the snake to be as comfortable and relaxed as it was.

Although an agitated vine snake looks impressive — it inflates and flattens its neck and throat, revealing a black-and-white checkered pattern — we made sure we did not do that. Such pictures of the vine snake (with chessboard markings and mouth open) are most common in photographic forums, indicating that the snakes were threatened or stressed by the photographers in search of an impressive picture. I implore readers, and photographers among them, to exercise restraint while photographing these snakes.

Green Vine Snakes are slender arboreal snakes that can grow up to 1.5 metres on average. The green colouration is due to the interaction of a yellow pigment on the snake’s blue skin. The longest specimen ever measured was a female, which was 1.94 metres. The snake has a long, triangular, pointed snout. The eyes are slightly forward-facing with pupils that are horizontal slits.
The pointed snout and horizontal slits of the pupils are characteristic
These snakes are found in forested habitats, including gardens, up to an elevation of 1,800 m. A diurnal predator, it generally waits and ambushes its prey, which include frogs, birds, tadpoles, lizards, small mammals and other snakes. Green Vine Snakes are rear-fanged and mildly venomous. Human victims may suffer local swelling, numbness or itching.
The forward-facing eyes, which enable binocular vision, help the snake judge depth and distance, which are necessary to sustain its arboreal lifestyle. The snake’s eyes and pointed snout have also led to myths that it plucks out the eyes of its adversaries. Curiously, J C Daniel has recorded that the Vine Snake has the “habit of striking the eye of its opponent, the only object in movement in a tree snake’s view” and adds that the snake’s common name in Tamil means “eye-pecking snake”.
The forward-facing eyes help the snake judge depth and distance
The Green Vine Snake is generally quite aggressive and does not take well to being handled. But it’s not difficult to figure if the snake is feeling threatened and wants to be left alone – all you need to look for are those chessboard markings.
Vine Snakes snakes are ovoviviparous — they produce eggs that develop within the mother’s body. The female gives birth to live young, which have no placental connection with the mother. A vine snake may have between 3-23 young at a time.
After being treated like a model for around 20 minutes, the patient snake decided to move on, deciding to end its encounter with the ogres. But I’m sure that the snake and the ogres were happy that they treated each other with respect and none were left whining.
Text and photos by Arun Menon
Lead photo by Sahastrarashmi
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