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Look what the cat dragged in

February 26, 2014

blind snakeMembers of the family of snakes known as blind snakes (Typhlopidae) are not often encountered because of their cryptic nature and burrowing habit. They are generally found under rocks and rotting logs, or in ant or termite nests. But they do venture above ground on warm humid nights, especially after rain – which is what the specimen pictured here was presumably doing when it unfortunately met up with a cat and was killed. It was found on a property on Junction Hill, just east of Flowerdale.

All blind snakes in Australia belong to a single genus, Ramphotyphlops, and are non-venomous and completely harmless, although if handled roughly they can emit a foul-smelling substance from anal glands – believed to be a defense mechanism to deter predators.

There are four species in Victoria, two of which are restricted to the north-west of the state and another, the Woodland Blind Snake, R. proximus, is a  species now listed as near-threatened and mostly confined to the box-ironbark regions and northern plains. According to knowledgeable reptile enthusiasts Bertram and Steve, the Junction Hill snake is most likely Gray’s (or Blackish) Blind Snake (R. nigrescens) due to its appearance and location. A positive identification would depend on the number of rows of mid-body scales and the shape of the snout – in the case of Gray’s Blind Snake, 22 scales and a rounded rather than lobed snout .

According to the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas, the last confirmed record of a Gray’s Blind Snake in Flowerdale was in 1949, but Bertram did find one at Homewood near Yea during a Striped Legless Lizard search in 2005.

It can grow up to 75cm long and is found throughout central and north-east Victoria, and right up to south-east Queensland. It feeds mostly on soft-bodied burrowing invertebrates, including ant eggs, larvae and pupae, termites and earth-worms.

Blind snakes are not totally blind, but they do have poor vision due to greatly reduced eyes covered by a transparent scale – not a great disadvantage for a burrowing animal.

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