Two Blackheads, One Orange

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Hans Breuer (twoton)
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Two Blackheads, One Orange

Post by Hans Breuer (twoton) » September 1st, 2010, 6:55 pm

Sibynophis chinensis chinensis belongs to a genus of nine little drab-looking snake species distributed through southern and south-eastern Asia. This obscure subfamily hardly gets any press, save for the odd mention in even obscurer herpetology papers. In fact, these animals seem so unspectacular even to herpetologists that they were saddled with the unwieldy moniker "Many-Toothed Snakes". S. c. chinensis is the sole representative of this genus in Taiwan, and its English name, "Asiatic Many-Toothed Snake", is such a mouthful that most foreigners on the island rather use the direct translation of the much more efficient Chinese name, "Black-headed Snake", or just "blackhead".

But even the most boring-looking creature has its moments, and the points of interest about the blackhead are its teeth and its speed. It's a skink-eating genus, and like other skinkophagous (no, that's not a word) snakes, Sibynophis sp. possess hinged teeth which can lock prey in a vertical position if it tries to escape. A very cool modification that is also reflected in the animal's name: "sibyna" was an Ancient Greek term for certain hunting spears.

Then there's the snake's velocity. Unlike most other semi-fossorial snakes, the blackhead does not try to burrow under leaves or into dirt when surprised, but relies on its considerable athleticism: I've run into nine of these guys over the last 24 months, and only managed to catch three of them. They're often found hunting in roadside ditches, and I'm here to testify that in a debris-filled, two-foot wide ditch they can outrun any overweight, middle-aged German. The memories of seeing these little brown lightnings taking off down the ditch like Lucifer's pets, and disappearing into the sunset, are most bitter indeed :-)

Last Friday I had the opportunity to catch another one of these diurnal snakes (not because I was faster his time, but because the confused critter ran towards me instead of away), and I took it home for photos. Little did I know that during our Saturday Morning Snake Walk the very next day, my son Karl found another conspecific, but one that didn't exactly deserve the name "Blackhead": its entire head was orange! This is the first color aberration in any animal we've ever seen in the wild, and we were properly psyched. I guess an island doesn't allow for a lot of gene pool variety, so most creatures look exactly as shown in the field guides...

Both snakes were about 20 inches long, with the orange-headed being a little smaller and more slender.

PS: Saturday night the kids failed to properly close the lid of the blackhead tank after playing with the snakes, and Sunday morning both snakes were AWOL. Our two cats are usually good at finding them, so I was relaxed about the situation. The first blackhead turned up half an hour later in the living room, and the second one when I used my office phone....see last photo. Yes, that's exactly the position where I found it - sleeping under the %$#@! receiver!

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Ventral shot of both snakes
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Paul White
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Re: Two Blackheads, One Orange

Post by Paul White » September 1st, 2010, 9:28 pm

skinkophagous
English is flexible so I doubt skinkophagous a legitimate word. At first I took the phone for a scale and was going to ask the weight on those guys (they look thin and tiny!) but I guess it wasn't :lol:

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Jeremiah_Easter
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Re: Two Blackheads, One Orange

Post by Jeremiah_Easter » September 2nd, 2010, 1:31 am

Neat looking black-head. Hans I think its time you invested in some better caging :mrgreen:

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Hans Breuer (twoton)
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Re: Two Blackheads, One Orange

Post by Hans Breuer (twoton) » September 2nd, 2010, 1:39 am

Better caging is not the issue...it's the damn kids! (at least this time :-) )

bobassetto
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Re: Two Blackheads, One Orange

Post by bobassetto » September 2nd, 2010, 4:01 am

skinkophagus.....is now a word........thank you .....i'll have zero problem using skinkophagus in my everyday conversations......

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Hans Breuer (twoton)
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Re: Two Blackheads, One Orange

Post by Hans Breuer (twoton) » September 2nd, 2010, 4:14 am

That's nice, Bob. I'm glad I could assist with your word-a-day quest. But please make sure to spell it "skinkophagOus". :D

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Mulebrother
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Re: Two Blackheads, One Orange

Post by Mulebrother » September 2nd, 2010, 4:36 am

Hans, I always enjoy your stuff...I appreciate your form of tell the story, then show the pics.
That orange headed one is awesome!

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Warren
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Re: Two Blackheads, One Orange

Post by Warren » September 2nd, 2010, 6:02 am

Congrats on your morph! :D

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chrish
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Re: Two Blackheads, One Orange

Post by chrish » September 2nd, 2010, 6:54 am

Great story, great writing, great post.

Those look like neat little snakes and I second the support for the new word. I prefer spelling it like the family name if we had a choice. It just looks more "scientific" to write scincophagous than skinkophagous. Scincophagy just has a nice ring to it.

I think those snakes should be called White-lipped snakes. Seems to fit much better than "black-headed" and I can't see that they have any more teeth than any other snake so many-toothed seems inappropriated.

Chris

Paul White
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Re: Two Blackheads, One Orange

Post by Paul White » September 2nd, 2010, 7:07 am

red headed maybe, black headed no. Either that or my monitors color is way off.

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Hans Breuer (twoton)
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Re: Two Blackheads, One Orange

Post by Hans Breuer (twoton) » September 2nd, 2010, 4:10 pm

It just looks more "scientific" to write scincophagous
Of course! Excellent!
I think those snakes should be called White-lipped snakes. Seems to fit much better than "black-headed"
Go ahead and try. See if you can single-handedly change 5000 years of monolithic Chinese culture :-)

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Jason B
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Re: Two Blackheads, One Orange

Post by Jason B » September 2nd, 2010, 4:38 pm

They remind me of storeria. That orange one looks neat.

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Viridovipera
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Re: Two Blackheads, One Orange

Post by Viridovipera » September 3rd, 2010, 1:12 am

Jason B wrote:They remind me of storeria. That orange one looks neat.

Same here. Or Asian ringnecks (Diadophis). Despite being considering "boring" by some, these lesser known Taiwanese snakes are considered awesome by many here. Keep it coming! Thanks Hans.

-Alex

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Hans Breuer (twoton)
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Re: Two Blackheads, One Orange

Post by Hans Breuer (twoton) » September 3rd, 2010, 1:17 am

Despite being considering "boring" by some, these lesser known Taiwanese snakes are considered awesome by many here. Keep it coming! Thanks Hans.
Thank you! Well, don't mind if I do. In fact, I've got two of those "little Schaefers" (a herper friend's inexplicable term for boring little snakes) right here in my guest tanks, waiting to be photographed and posted.

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Hans Breuer (twoton)
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Re: Two Blackheads, One Orange

Post by Hans Breuer (twoton) » June 23rd, 2011, 3:33 am

Taiwan is a small island, and small islands tend to have limited gene pools. That's one of the reasons why morphs of any
kind are so difficult to find. But yesterday I found another Orange Blackhead, and today (at the same site, no less) a standard one for comparison. I gave the Irish snake to the herpetology department at Taiwan Culture University, where a buddy of mine is doing DNA testing on this morph to find out whether it's just a color aberration or a subspecies.
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On the arm of a spectating lady.
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Here's the standard version for reference:

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withalligators
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Re: Two Blackheads, One Orange

Post by withalligators » June 24th, 2011, 12:14 pm

Oooohhh... That one with the orange head is actually a fea's. They make great pets, especially in households with kids.

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Hans Breuer (twoton)
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Re: Two Blackheads, One Orange

Post by Hans Breuer (twoton) » June 24th, 2011, 7:59 pm

:lol:

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