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Aquatic Snakes of Southeast Asia

Please visit the Sea Snake microsite: http://archive.fieldmuseum.org/aquaticsnakes/index.html

Mud Snakes

Features: Homalopsine snakes are found in freshwater and marine habitats from India to northern Australia and exhibit a wide diversity of form and function. These water snakes are characterized by dorsally-oriented eyes and valvular nostrils. Some species are marine (the keel-bellied water snake, Bitia hydroides), some occur mainly in mangrove swamps, estuaries and coastal rivers (the crab-eating water snake, Fordonia leucobalia, and the dog-faced water snake, Cerberus rynchops), and others are found in freshwater streams and lakes and are semi-aquatic (the rainbow water snake, Enhydris enhydris, and the plumbeous water snake, Enhydris plumbea).

The homalopsines are rear-fanged snakes. Toxic secretions from glands in the back of the mouth drip into grooves on the rear teeth when the snake bites its prey. Most homalopsines are small and are not considered dangerous to humans. The diet of most homalopsines consists of fish and frogs, although at least one species specializes on crabs (crab-eating water snake, Fordonia leucobalia). All homalopsine snakes bear live young.

The homalopsines are particularly interesting because they offer a fascinating evolutionary case study in the morphological, physiological, behavioral and ecological changes associated with the shift from terrestrial to marine life styles.

Field projects have been conducted in Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, and Thailand.

Field Projects:

The Homalopsinae (Oriental-Australian rear-fanged water snakes) is a small (34 species, 10 genera) colubrid subfamily notable for its ecological and morphological diversity. A molecular phylogenetic study of the homalopsines based on partial sequence of three mitchondrial genes (12S and 16S ribosomal RNA and cytochrome b) from 14 ingroup species, five Old and New World natricines and the Old World colubrid, Dinodon semicarinatus was conducted by Voris et al., 2002.

Homalopsine monophyly was strongly supported with respect to the outgroups included in our study. Cantoria violacea, a morphologically distinctive marine crustacean eater, formed the sister group to the rest of the homalopsines. Enhydris, the most species-rich genus in the subfamily, was polyphyletic with respect to other homalopsines although five morphologically and ecologically similar species formed a well-supported clade. The marine crustacean eaters Fordonia leucobalia and Gerarda prevostiana, also formed a novel clade.

The evolutionary and ecological implications of this phylogeny for the Homalopsinae are discussed in more detail in the following publication: Voris, H.K., M.E. Alfaro, D.R. Karns, G.L. Starnes, E. Thompson and J.C. Murphy. 2002. Phylogenetic relationships of the Oriental-Australian rear-fanged water snakes (Colubridae: Homalopsinae) based on mitochondrial DNA sequences.  Copeia 2002(4):906-915.

A printable PDF version of this publication is available. Please contact Kathleen Kelly.

Literature:

Gyi, K.K. 1970. A revision of the colubrid snakes of the subfamily Homalopsinae. University of Kansas Publications 20(2):47-233.

Jayne, B.C., H. K. Voris, and K. L. Ng.  2002.  Snake circumvents constraints on prey size. Nature, 418(11 July 2002):143.

Karns, D.R., H. K. Voris, T. Chan-ard, J. C. Goodwin, and J. C. Murphy.  1999-2000.  The spatial ecology of the rainbow water snake (Enhydris enhydris, Homalopsinae) in a wetland in southern Thailand.  Herpetological Natural History, 7(2):97-115.

Karns, D.R., H. K. Voris, and T. G. Goodwin.  2002.  Ecology of Oriental-Australian rear-fanged water snakes (Colubridae: Homalpsinae) in the Pasir Ris Park Mangrove Forest, Singapore. The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, 50(2):487-498.

Murphy, J.C.  In Press. Homalopsine Snakes: Evolutionary Experiments in Terrestrial-Aquatic Transitions. Krieger Press, Malabar, Florida.

Voris, H. K. and D. R. Karns.  1996.  Habitat utilization, movements, and activity patterns of Enhydris plumbea (Serpentes: Homalopsinae) in a rice paddy wetland in Borneo. Herpetological Natural History, 4(2):111-126.

Voris, H.K., M.E. Alfaro, D.R. Karns, G.L. Starnes, E. Thompson and J.C. Murphy. 2002. Phylogenetic relationships of the Oriental-Australian rear-fanged water snakes (Colubridae: Homalopsinae) based on mitochondrial DNA sequences.  Copeia 2002(4):906-915.

Voris, H.K. and J. C. Murphy.  2002.  The prey and predators of homalopsine snakes.  Journal of Natural History, 36(13):1621-1632.


Annotated bibliography of the Homalopsinae

An comprehensive annotated bibliography of the Homalopsinae is in preparation and we plan to make it available through this website when it is complete.

Book Sources

Heatwole, H. 1999. Sea Snakes. University of New South Wales Press, Sydney (published in the U.S. by Krieger Publishing Company, Florida.)

Shine, R. 1991. Australian Snakes: A Natural History. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York.

Map Sources

Map material was created working from the following applications: Microsoft Encarta Atlas, and Arc View.
Choubert, G., and A. Faure-Muret, eds. 1976. Geological World Atlas. UNESCO, Paris.

Journal and Other Sources

Keogh, J.S. 1997.  Molecular phylogeny of elapid snakes and a consideration of their biogeographic history. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 63:177-203.

H.K. Voris and G.S. Glodek. 1980. Habitat, diet and reproduction of the file snake, Acrochordus granulatus, in the Straits of Malacca. Journal of Herpetology 14(1):108-111.

Jayne, B.C., T.J. Ward and H.K. Voris. 1995. Morphology, reproduction, and diet of the marine homalopsine snake, Bitia hydroides, in peninsular Malaysia. Copeia 1995(4):800-808.


Website Construction Credits

Harold Voris provided the concepts and content.
Sarah Drasner did the design and construction.
Allison Meyer did the design and oversaw the implementation.

Collaborators:

Our projects on the water snakes of Southeast Asia are based at The Field Museum of Natural History but they have involved many collaborations and a great deal of assistance and cooperation from many colleagues and students from many countries.

Project leaders include Daryl R. Karns, Professor of Biology at Hanover College, Hanover, Indiana and Research Associate at The Field Museum; John C. Murphy, Chairman of the Science Department, Plainfield High School and Research Associate at The Field Museum; and Harold K. Voris, Curator and Head of the Division of Amphibians and Reptiles at The Field Museum.


 


 

Sea Kraits

Features: Amphibious sea kraits are characterized by one feature that is an obvious aid in swimming, a broad paddle-like tail.  It shares other features such as broad belly scales and lateral nostrils with its terrestrial relatives.  The life history and ecology of the brown-lipped sea krait (Laticauda laticaudata) and the yellow-lipped sea krait (Laticauda colubrina) have been studied in New Caledonia (Saint Girons, 1964), Fiji (Guinea, 1994; Shetty, 2000) and Borneo (Voris & Voris, 1995).

History: The amphibious sea kraits (previously Laticaudidae) are a small group of amphibious snakes that occur  from the Bay of Bengal to the South Pacific Ocean.  They belong within the elapid snakes (coral snakes, cobras, kraits, etc.).  Elapids are characterized by a hollow fixed front fang and neurotoxic venoms.  The relationships among sea kraits has been studied by Voris (1977) and McCarthy (1985) and the relationships of sea kraits to other elapid snakes have been studied most recently by Keogh (1998).

Literature:

Guinea, M.L. 1994. Sea snakes of Fiji and Niue. In: Sea Snake Toxinology, ed. by P. Gopalakrishnakone. Singapore University Press, Singapore.

Ineich, I. and P. Laboute. 2002. Sea Snakes of New Caledonia. Museum National d’historie Naturelle. Paris.

Lading, E.A., Stuebing, R. B., and Voris, H. K. 1991. A population size estimate of the yellow-lipped sea krait, Laticauda colubrina, on Kalampunian Damit Island, Sabah, Malaysia.  Copeia, 1991(4):1139-1142.

McCarthy, C.J. 1986. Relationships of the laticaudine sea snakes (Serpentes: Elapidae: Laticaudinae). Bulletin of the British Museum of Natural History, Zoology 50:127-161.

Saint Girons, H. 1964. Notes sur l’ecologie et la structure des populations des Laticaudinae (Serpents, Hydrophiidae) en Nouvelle Caledonie. La Terre et la Vie 2:185-214.

Shetty, S. and R. Shine. 2002. Activity patterns of yellow-lipped sea kraits (Laticauda colubrina) on a Fijian island. Copeia 2002(1):77-85.

Voris, H.K. and Voris, H. H. 1995. Commuting on the tropical tides: The life of the yellow-lipped sea krait. Ocean Realm, April, pp. 58-61.


Useful Links

For more snake photos, please visit Dr. Zoltan Takacs's website at http://www.zoltantakacs.com

Credits:

Books

Heatwole, H. 1999. Sea Snakes. University of New South Wales Press, Sydney (published in the U.S. by Krieger Publishing Company, Florida.)

Ineich, I. and P. Laboute. 2002. Sea Snakes of New Caledonia. Museum National d’historie Naturelle. Paris.

Shine, R. 1991. Australian Snakes: A Natural History. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York.


Map Sources

Map material was created working from the following applications: Microsoft Encarta Atlas, and Arc View.

Choubert, G., and A. Faure-Muret, eds. 1976. Geological World Atlas. UNESCO, Paris.


Journal and Other Sources

Keogh, J.S. 1997.  Molecular phylogeny of elapid snakes and a consideration of their biogeographic history. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 63:177-203.


Website Construction Credits

Harold Voris provided the concepts and content.
Sarah Drasner did the design and construction.
Allison Meyer did the design and oversaw the implementation.