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Indotyphlops braminus (Daudin 1803)

Brahminy Blind Snake / Flowerpot Snake / Bootlace Snake


Fig 1. Indotyphlops braminus. Photo credit: Chan Kwokwai. Image taken from Wildlife Singapore

Single cite
citeID25

Wildlife Singapore - Brahminy Blind Snake. (n.d.). Retrieved November 3, 2015, from http://www.wildsingapore.per.sg/fauna/facts/snake_blind.htm



Overview



Indotyphlops braminus, belonging to the infraorder Scolecophidians, are the most ancient (basal) group of living snakes often neglected in all aspects of vertebrate studies

Single cite
citeID8

Hedges, S. B., Marion, A. B., Lipp, K. M., Marin, J., & Vidal, N. (2014). A taxonomic framework for typhlopid snakes from the Caribbean and other regions (Reptilia, Squamata). Caribbean Herpetology, 49, 1-61.

. They bear similar resemblance to that of an Earthworm as a result of their worm-like appearance and size, except for the lack of segmentation which is a key feature of the annelids. About the size of a spaghetti strand, they are considered to be one of the world's smallest snake whose length averages between 6 to 16 cm

Single cite
citeID12

Krysko, K. (n.d.). Indotyphlops braminus. Retrieved November 9, 2015, from https://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/herpetology/fl-snakes/list/indotyphlops-braminus/

. Even though they are carnivorous like all other snake species, they bear no danger to humans as they are non-venomous, tiny and almost entirely blind. As such, their diets compromises of only small soft-bodied invertebrates

Single cite
citeID9

Hellyer, P. and Aspinall, S. (2005) The Emirates: A Natural History. Trident Press Limited, United Arab Emirates.

. Interestingly, I. braminus is a taxa consisting of only female individuals which reproduce solely via parthenogenesis

Single cite
citeID1

Baker, N. (n.d.). Brahminy Blind Snake - Ramphotyphlops braminus. Retrieved November 10, 2015, from http://www.ecologyasia.com/verts/snakes/brahminy_blind_snake.htm

. Their parthenogenetic nature and global trade of greenhouse materials essentially broaden their geographical distribution worldwide from the tropics, subtropics to temperate regions. However, the application of reproductive isolation species concepts in this taxa are not applicable due to their relatively simple body plans and parthenogenetic nature.



Table of Contents

Table of Contents
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Etymology



The genus name "Indotyphlops" consists of "indo" which refers to the Indian to Indonesia distribution

Single cite
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Pyron, R. A., & Wallach, V. (2014). Systematics of the blindsnakes (Serpentes: Scolecophidia: Typhlopoidea) based on molecular and morphological evidence. Zootaxa,3829(1), 1-8

 and "typhlops" which is a Greek noun of "the blind"

Single cite
citeID8

Hedges, S. B., Marion, A. B., Lipp, K. M., Marin, J., & Vidal, N. (2014). A taxonomic framework for typhlopid snakes from the Caribbean and other regions (Reptilia, Squamata). Caribbean Herpetology, 49, 1-61.

. The species name "braminus" is a latinized form of the word 'Brahmin' which refers to a spiritual caste among the Hindus

Single cite
citeID26

Uetz, P., & Hallermann, J. (n.d.). Indotyphlops braminus (DAUDIN, 1803). Retrieved November 11, 2015, from http://reptile-database.reptarium.cz/species?genus=Indotyphlops&species=braminus

.


Common Name



Common NamesReason behind the name
Brahminy blindsnakePossess only a pair of rudimentary eye spots covered with translucent scales rendering them essentially blind
Flowerpot snakeCommonly found living within the soil of flower pots
Bootlace snakeSimilar resemblance to bootlaces



Synonyms



SynonymsAuthors
Eryx braminusDaudin, 1803
Tortrix russeliiMerrem, 1820
Typhlops russeliSchlegel, 1839
Typhlops braminusDuméril & Bibron, 1844
Argyrophis truncatusGray, 1845
Onychocephalus capensisSmith, 1846
Argyrophis bramicusKelaart, 1854
Ophthalmidium tenueHallowell, 1861
Typhlops (Typhlops) inconspicuusJan, 1863
Typhlops (Typhlops) euproctusBoettger, 1882
Typhlops limbrickiiAnnandale, 1906
Glauconia braueriSternfeld, 1910
Typhlops pseudosaurusDryden & Taylor, 1969
Typhlina braminusMcdowell, 1974
Ramphotyphlops braminusNussbaum, 1980
Indotyphlops braminusHedges et al., 2014



Distribution



Indotyphlops braminus has an essentially cosmopolitan distribution due to the expanding international trade of greenhouse materials and their parthenogenetic nature

Single cite
citeID24

Wallach, V. (2009). Ramphotyphlops braminus (Daudin): a synopsis of morphology, taxonomy, nomenclature and distribution (Serpentes: Typhlopidae). Hamadryad, 34, 34-61.

. Their global distribution ranges from the tropics and subtropics of Africa, Middle East, Asia, and America, to the temperate regions of Europe and USA

Single cite
citeID26

Uetz, P., & Hallermann, J. (n.d.). Indotyphlops braminus (DAUDIN, 1803). Retrieved November 11, 2015, from http://reptile-database.reptarium.cz/species?genus=Indotyphlops&species=braminus

. However, with support from their relationship from the Indian and Sri Lanka sister taxa

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, they are thought to have originated from Sri Lanka or Southern India and native to Southern and Southeastern Asia.

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hrefhttps://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?mid=1ueejyTh2aOCgbtD26KXC81krckI&ll=3.3809607744974284%2C140.01236894999994&z=2


Fig 2. Geographical distribution of I. braminus. Distribution of I. braminus are indicated by the red markers, while green markers indicate area where I. braminus are known to be introduced and considered invasive.

Habitat


Indotyphlops braminus is a completely fossorial snake species that live underground near ant and termite nest. It can be commonly found burrowed in loose, warm and damp soils of city gardens, forested, agricultural, and urban areas

Single cite
citeID12

Krysko, K. (n.d.). Indotyphlops braminus. Retrieved November 9, 2015, from https://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/herpetology/fl-snakes/list/indotyphlops-braminus/

. The distribution and abundance of this snake species underground can indicate the humidity and temperature of the soil

Single cite
citeID2

Brahminy Blindsnake - Ramphotyphlops braminus. (n.d.). Retrieved November 5, 2015, from http://www.californiaherps.com/snakes/pages/r.braminus.html

.



Morphological Diagnosis


At family level: Typhlopidae


Morphologically, it is easy to narrow these blindsnakes down to the family level as their characteristically small size and worm-like appearance are easily recognizable. These burrowing snakes are covered with scales of identical sizes, of which some cover and protect the eyes when burrowing while some forms shovel overlooking the mouth to enable efficient digging.

At subfamily level: Asiatyphlopinae


The family Typhlopidae are further split up into 4 subfamilies according to their dominant geographical distributions:

  • Afrotyphlopinae (Africa, Arabia, India)
  • Asiatyphlopinae (Asia, Oceania, North Africa, Southern Europe)
  • Madatyphlopinae (Madagascar, Tanzania, Somalia, Archipelago of Comoros)
  • Typhlopinae (America, West Africa)


Native to South and Southeast Asia, I. braminus belongs to the subfamily, Asiatyphlopinae.

At genus level: Indotyphlops


Indotyphlops is genus that differ from the rest of subfamily, Asiatyphlopinae:

  • Possesses a single postocular
  • Lowest number of mid-body scales
  • No scale reduction
  • Smallest body length when compared to other genera, except for Cyclotyphlops
  • Thinnest body

At species level: braminus


  • Maximum of 20 mid-body scale rows

  • Absence of scale row reduction

  • Total mid-dorsal (back) scale rows range from 261 - 368, and averages at 315

  • Total length, maximum: 203 mm

  • Body shape (total length / mid-body diameter) ranges from 30 - 66, and averages at 48

  • Dorsal ground colour: Dark grey, black, brown

  • Absence of pattern in scales
Fig 3. Dorsal view of whole specimen. Photo credit: Ang Yuchen
  • Ventral ground colour: Pale grey, pale brown

  • Dorsal-ventral color difference: Bicolour, dorsum is of darker colouration
Fig 4. Ventral view of whole specimen. Photo credit: Ang Yuchen
  • Distinct eyes

  • Rounded snout

  • Non-circular head scales

Fig 5. Facial scales. Photo credit: Ang Yuchen. Annotated by Lee Zhi Heng
  • Nasal division complete




Fig 6. Dorsal view of head. Photo credit: Ang Yuchen. Annotated by Lee Zhi Heng.
  • Caudal (tail) scale rows range from 8 - 15, and averages at 11.5

  • (Total body length / tail length) ranges from 34.5 - 50, and averages at 42.3
Fig 7. Dorsal view of tail. Photo credit: Ang Yuchen

As body shape and organ size are negatively allometric, visceral traits seem to lack correlation with molecular phylogeny

Single cite
citeID8

Hedges, S. B., Marion, A. B., Lipp, K. M., Marin, J., & Vidal, N. (2014). A taxonomic framework for typhlopid snakes from the Caribbean and other regions (Reptilia, Squamata). Caribbean Herpetology, 49, 1-61.

 and thus might not be suggestive of an efficient species delimitation.

Character Glossary




Fig 8. Head scales used as character keys. Image from Clarke et al., 2012

Single cite
citeID5

Clarke, DN, Kunkel, W, Chippaux, JP, and Jackson, K. 2012. Online multivariate key to the snake genera of Western and Central Africa. Retrieved November 14, 2015, from http://people.whitman.edu/~clarkedn/



Biology


Diet


The small body size of I. braminus restricts them to a diet of small invertebrates, with preference towards those with comparatively soft bodies. They feed on the larvae and pupae of ants and termites as a prominent source of nutrients

Single cite
citeID3

Brahminy blind snake photos and facts. (n.d.). Retrieved November 4, 2015, from http://www.arkive.org/brahminy-blind-snake/ramphotyphlops-braminus/

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citeID9


 as well as a variety of other small invertebrates like millipedes and centipedes

Single cite
citeID9

Hellyer, P. and Aspinall, S. (2005) The Emirates: A Natural History. Trident Press Limited, United Arab Emirates.

.


Vid 1. Indotyphlops braminus eating ant larvae. Video obtained from YouTube under Fair use Video adapted from BBC's Life in Cold Blood documentary series.

Predatory adaptations & behaviors


The jaws of I. braminus possesses a unique morphological design that enables their maxillary raking (upper jaw) to move independently of their skull. This enables them to pick up their preys with an efficient scooping motion as shown in the video below

Single cite
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Mizuno, T., & Kojima, Y. (2015). A blindsnake that decapitates its termite prey. Journal of Zoology, 297(3), 220-224.

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Vid 2. Indotyphlops braminus scooping up pupae with jaws. Video credit: Nate Kley

Single cite
citeID11

Kley, N. J. (2001). Prey transport mechanisms in blindsnakes and the evolution of unilateral feeding systems in snakes. American Zoologist, 41(6), 1321-1337.

.

In the predation of adult invertebrates such as termites, I. braminus are shown to exhibit a feeding behavior unusual of basal snakes. They decapitate the termites by swallowing them from the back but making sure to leave the head hanging out. They would then proceed to rub their prey against surfaces till their head fall off, before consuming the rest of the body. The termite heads are often left uneaten as they are indigestible for the snake's digestive system and possess toxic terpenes used for chemical defense. Termites head are often found undigested in the feces of I. braminus

Single cite
citeID16


.


Fig 9. I. Braminus decapitates termite head. Scale bale represents 2 mm. Image from Mizuno & Kojima, 2015 (16)
Fig 10. Termite heads found undigested in feces of I. braminus. Scale bale represents 2 mm. Image from Mizuno & Kojima,

Vid 3. Indotyphlops braminus decaptitates termite. Video from Mizuno & Kojima, 2015
Single cite
citeID16


Defensive adaptation & behavior


Indotyphlops braminus are well adapted to a fully fossorial lifestyle. Their narrow head are consistent with their small cylindrical body covered with smooth black scales to reduce friction when burrowing. Other features also include the layer of translucent scale protecting vestigial eye spots, as well as a rigid skull and blunt nose to aid in burrowing

Single cite
citeID4

Burnie, D. (2001). Animal: Dorling Kindersley. London. pp.

Single cite
citeID7

Halliday, T. and Adler, K. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Reptile and Amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Single cite
citeID19

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015-3. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 10 November 2015.

. When threaten, I. braminus secretes foul-smelling chemicals

Single cite
citeID19


 before burrowing underground to seek refuge.

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Vid 4. I. braminus burrowing into soil. Video obtained from YouTube under Fair use Video credit: Noel Thomas

In addition, I. braminus are also very hardy creatures that are capable of living for an extended period of time without food. Herpetologist and TV personality Mark O'Shea and his team demonstrated the resilience of this snake through the documentation of a live I. braminus withstanding the journey through the digestive system of a Common Asian toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus) and exiting through its rear end

Single cite
citeID11

Kley, N. J. (2001). Prey transport mechanisms in blindsnakes and the evolution of unilateral feeding systems in snakes. American Zoologist, 41(6), 1321-1337.

.

Fig 11. I. braminus found exiting the the gastrointestinal system of D. melanostictus. Image from O'Sheal et al., 2013

Reproduction & Development


Indotyphlops braminus is a female-only species which reproduces via parthenogenesis to produce genetically identical offspring. They are oviparous and can lay from 2-8 tiny eggs each time

Single cite
citeID12


. Each of these unfertilized eggs can hatch into female hatchlings of approximately 53 mm in length

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 and potentially establish new colonies elsewhere by itself, requiring only sufficient food source and suitable soil conditions.


Ecological Significance & Conservation



Indotyphlops braminus preys on soft-bodied invertebrates and play an essential role as a secondary consumer in the ecosystem by keeping the populations of small invertebrates such as ants and termites in balance.

However, as I. braminus are highly tolerant to disturbances

Single cite
citeID9


 and capable of establishing colonies with just a single individual, they are distributed widely around the globe and considered invasive in the non-native regions. As such their conservation status is yet to be assessed on the ICUN Red List

Single cite
citeID17

O’Shea, M., Kathriner, A., Mecke, S., Sanchez, C., & Kaiser, H. (2013). ‘Fantastic Voyage’: a live blindsnake (Ramphotyphlops braminus) journeys through the gastrointestinal system of a toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus). Herpetology Notes, 6, 467-470.

 as there are no known threats to this species,



Taxonomy & Systematic



Type information


Lectotype: Russell 1796, plate 43
Type locality: Vizagapatam, India

Classification


The Taxo-navigation system below is provided by and referenced to UniProt Taxonomy. This reflects the classification of Indotyphlops braminus above the species level.

 cellular organisms
 Eukaryota
 Opisthokonta
 Metazoa
 Eumetazoa
 Bilateria
 Deuterostomia
 Chordata
 Craniata
 Vertebrata
 Gnathostomata
 Teleostomi
 Euteleostomi
 Sarcopterygii
 Dipnotetrapodomorpha
 Tetrapoda
 Amniota
 Sauropsida
 Sauria
 Lepidosauria
 Squamata
 Bifurcata
 Unidentata
 Episquamata
 Toxicofera
 Serpentes
 Typhlopoidea
 Typhlopidae
 Indotyphlops

Phylogeny


The species delimitation of blindsnakes from Southern and Southeastern Asia have been especially challenging due to its comparatively lack of useful morphological characters

Single cite
citeID8

Hedges, S. B., Marion, A. B., Lipp, K. M., Marin, J., & Vidal, N. (2014). A taxonomic framework for typhlopid snakes from the Caribbean and other regions (Reptilia, Squamata). Caribbean Herpetology, 49, 1-61.

. In addition due to the subjectivity of morphological classification, the parthenogenetic nature of I. braminus render process-based species concepts like Biological Species Concept and Hennigian Species Concept inapplicable due to the lack of sexual reproduction between each individuals of the same species. As such, there have been much disagreements with regards to the classification of these blindsnakes 

Single cite
citeID10

Khan, M. S. (1999). Two new species and a subspecies of blind snakes of genus Typhlops from Azad Kashmir and Punjab, Pakistan (Serpentes: Typhlopidae). Russian Journal of Herpetology, 6(3), 231-240.

Single cite
citeID20

Vidal, N., Marin, J., Morini, M., Donnellan, S., Branch, W. R., Thomas, R., Vences, M., Wynn, A., Cruaud, C. & Hedges, S. B. (2010). Blindsnake evolutionary tree reveals long history on Gondwana. Biology Letters, 6(4), 558-561.

Single cite
citeID21

Wallach, V. (1999). Typhlops meszoelyi, A new species of blind snake from northeastern India (Serpentes: Typhlopidae). Herpetologica, 185-191.

Single cite
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Wallach, V. (2000). Critical review of some recent descriptions of Pakistani Typhlops by MS Khan, 1999 (Serpentes: Typhlopidae). HAMADRYAD-MADRAS-, 25, 129-143.

Single cite
citeID23

Wallach, V., & Pauwels, O. S. (2004). Typhlops lazelli, a new species of Chinese blindsnake from Hong Kong (Serpentes: Typhlopidae). Breviora, 1-21.

.

In most cases, these blindsnakes are grouped under the genus Ramphotyphlops and Typhlops based on morphological and ecological similarities like non-venomous nature, rudimentary optical sensory, diet and habitat preferences. However, phylogenetic analysis of molecular data revealed lineages that are clearly divergent such as the family,Gerrhopilidae

Single cite
citeID20

Vidal, N., Marin, J., Morini, M., Donnellan, S., Branch, W. R., Thomas, R., Vences, M., Wynn, A., Cruaud, C. & Hedges, S. B. (2010). Blindsnake evolutionary tree reveals long history on Gondwana. Biology Letters, 6(4), 558-561.

. Subsequent molecular evidence also enabled more species to be classified into genus like Anilios, Malayotyphlops, Ramphotyphlops s.s., and Sundatyphlops

Single cite
citeID13

Marin, J., Donnellan, S.C., Hedges, S.B., Doughty, P., Hutchinson, M.N., Cruaud, C. & Vidal, N. (2013a) Tracing the history and biogeography of the Australian blindsnake radiation. Journal of Biogeography, 40, 928–937.

Single cite
citeID14

Marin, J., Donnellan, S.C., Hedges, S.B., Puillandre, N., Aplin, K.P., Doughty, P., Hutchinson, M.N., Couloux, A. & Vidal, N. (2013b) Hidden species diversity of Australian burrowing snakes (Ramphotyphlops). Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 110, 427– 441.

, while remaining species were allocated into genus Asiatyphlops and Indotyphlops. As such, relationship within the genus Indotyphlops are less established

Single cite
citeID8

Hedges, S. B., Marion, A. B., Lipp, K. M., Marin, J., & Vidal, N. (2014). A taxonomic framework for typhlopid snakes from the Caribbean and other regions (Reptilia, Squamata). Caribbean Herpetology, 49, 1-61.

. However, the establishment of I. braminus (global invasive species) and I. pammeces (Indian species) being closest related sister taxa with strong support (high bootstrap and posterior probability) do suggest probable Indian origin for the genus Indotyphlops.

Fig 12. Phylogenetic Maximum Likelihood tree of typhlopid snakes based on an analysis of DNA sequences of five nuclear protein-coding genes, BDNF, RAG1, BMP2, NT3, and AMEL. Nodes with posterior probability > 95% and ML bootstrap probability > 70% are indicated with asterisks (*). The tree is rooted with 22 outgroupspecies (not shown) including a monitor lizard, and species of alethinophidian, leptotyphlopid, gerrhopilid, and xenotyphlopid snakes. Figure adapted from Vidalet al. 2010.



References



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Last curated on 2015