California Academy of Sciences Showcases New Snake Species
from Asia Never Before in Captivity

SAN FRANCISCO (November 13, 2000)–While on expedition in Myanmar (formerly Burma), scientists from the California Academy of Sciences captured a rare and unusual species of snake. Thirteen long, slender "Burmese Vine Snakes" (Ahaetulla fronticincta) were brought back to the museum where they have recently been placed on display in the Steinhart Aquarium. Little is known about these peculiar snakes and none exist in live exhibits anywhere else in the world.

Mimicking the vines in which they live, these snakes hang over water, swaying back and forth as if moved by a gentle breeze as they calculate the striking distance of their next meal: fish! A piscivorous arboreal (fish-eating and tree-dwelling) snake is extremely rare. Pencil thin, they are known to grow up to three feet in length and come in solid colors of green and brown. Their horizontally elliptical eyes are another rarity amongst snakes.

Steinhart Aquarium herpetologists have recreated the Burmese Vine Snake’s mangrove forest habitat in a tank with vines and slow moving water. So little is known about these snakes that caretakers were, at first, uncertain of their husbandry needs particularly their food. Guppies and goldfish were placed in their habitat holding tank to simulate prey and to hopefully tempt their appetites. It worked! Nimble and sinuous, the Burmese Vine Snakes are extremely fast when capturing their prey. Well camouflaged, they hover just above the surface of the water in an ever ready-to-strike pose. Swift and precise, the snakes’ movements are impressive.

While visitors delight in the latest addition to the Steinhart Aquarium’s living collection, Academy scientists are studying important questions behind the scenes that will help to advance our understanding of these animals.