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 Snakes 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 Aquariums living collection, Academy scientists are studying
important questions behind the scenes that will help to advance our understanding
of these animals.