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What Is a Pipe Snake?

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  • Written By: Christian Petersen
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 29 August 2014
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A pipe snake is one of several species of snakes belonging to three different genera, and found in several regions of the world including South America, Asia, Indonesia, the southern portions of the Indian sub-continent and the island nation of Sri Lanka. The different genera of snakes known as pipe snakes vary considerably from one to another, but all are non-venomous.

In South America, the family Aniliidae, which contains only one genus and the species Anilius scytale, is known as the South American pipe snake or false coral snake. This snake is considered a primitive species. It lays eggs, which hatch within the body of the mother, and feeds mostly on insects, small snakes, reptiles and amphibians. It is terrestrial and sometimes burrows looking for prey. It has a black body, which is approximately 27 inches (70 cm) long, is banded with bright red rings, and is fairly uniform in thickness with a very short tail.

The pipe snakes of Asia and Indonesia belong to the family Cylindrophidae. Approximately eight species of Asian pipe snakes are known, all belonging to theasingle genus within the family Cylindrophis. All share a checkered or mottled black and white belly with backs banded in black with yellow or red rings and a burrowing habit both for shelter and in hunting. They usually have short, stubby tails which may be somewhat flattened. All Asian pipe snakes are non-venomous and are found in southeast Asia and Indonesia.

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The family Uropeltidae is the largest family of pipe snakes. This family contains eight genera, consisting of approximately 47 species of pipe snakes. These burrowing snakes, which average between 8 and 27 inches (20 and 70 cm) are found in southern India and Sri Lanka, especially in the Western Ghats hills region. They are all non-venomous, considered to be somewhat primitive in design compared to other snake species, and are characterized by flattened tails that often exhibit a hardened covering of modified scales. For this reason, these snakes are sometimes called shield-tailed snakes.

Asian pipe snakes vary in their range and distribution. Some species are found over wide areas of southeast Asia, like the red-tailed pipe snake which is found all over the region. Some species have very limited habitats. Cylindrophis aruensis, the Aru cylinder snake, is found only on the Aru Islands in Indonesia. Cylindrophis opisthorhodus, the island pipe snake, is found only on Komodo, home of the Komodo dragons and surrounding islands.

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