Brief Encounter with Oriental Ratsnake

With 50 species of snake, many of which are endemic, Taiwan has to be one of the best places to visit if you are a herpetologist or if you simply enjoy observing these fascinating, if sometimes dangerous, animals. They are plentiful here, especially during the warmer months, and also highly elusive. As such, your best chances of seeing one, sadly, is on a paved road or a freeway, flattened to death by speeding vehicles. That said, once in a while you might get lucky and spot one in the wild, although this is likely to be a very brief encounter, unless the serpent is a member of one of the more aggressive, venomous species that prefer to defend themselves rather than flee.

Ever since I moved to the countryside in southern Taiwan, snake-spotting has become one of my favourite activities when outdoors. And I don’t always have to go far from home to see them. About once a year I get lucky enough to spot a snake right in my garden in front of the house or in the backyard. During the past five years I’ve seen a Chinese cobra (Naja atra) on two occasions, a couple of ratsnakes and one extremely fast snake that disappeared before I had a chance to identify it. There were probably many more, but they don’t usually hang around for too long.

I hadn’t seen any snakes on my property during the entire year (and with the cooler season approaching fast, I was giving up any hope) – until earlier this week. The lack of recent sightings was generously compensated by the size of the animal that showed up in my front yard this time around – at over two metres in length, it certainly was an impressive specimen! It was probably an oriental ratsnake (Ptyas mucosa). I saw it through the glass door as it moved slowly on the lawn, so I grabbed the camera (which I always keep ready near the door) and went outside to try to take some photos. The reptile was moving slowly towards the bushes and I was too slow to take a snapshot before most of its body was gone. Fortunately, the animal was kind enough to reappear one more time and I did manage to take a few shots, before it vanished under the bushes for good.

Oriental Ratsnake (Ptyas mucosa)

Oriental ratsnake is a species very common in Taiwan and widely distributed throughout much of tropical and subtropical Asia – from Iran to India, south-east Asia and southern China, although it is notably absent from Borneo and the populous archipelagos of Indonesia and Philippines further south. It is non-venomous and harmless to humans, but reportedly very fast and highly aggressive when cornered or captured. According to some sources on the Internet, it can grow up to 3.6 metres. It often lives on farmlands and near human habitations where is helps to keep the mouse and rat population growth in check. In Taiwan, it is known as 南蛇 (nan she), which translates as “southern snake”.

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