From the total 2,930 different types of snake on Earth, the main rainforest snakes you might see in the tropics belong to the following families:
Rainforest Snakes – Colubrids (Colubridae)
The colubrid family accounts for 75% of all known snake species. Tree snakes fit into this group which you might see hanging from rainforest trees. You will need a keen eye, as these snakes are usually well camouflaged against the lush green foliage.
Of all the different rainforest snakes, tree snakes have the best eyesight because they cannot follow scent trails through the rainforest branches and rely on visual cues. The green tree snake (Dendrelaphis punctulata) can be found in the Australian rainforest and is an attractive, non-venomous species.
On the other side of the planet, out of the Amazon Rainforest snakes, it is the colubrid group xenodontines that makes up most of the species. Although colubrids lack an efficient venom delivery system some species still pose a threat to humans.
Rainforest Snakes – Rainforest Pythons (Pythonidae)
Pythons are a snake you are likely to see in the rainforests of Asia, Africa, and Australia. Pythons are large, muscular snakes having solid teeth that curve backwards. This is because they lack venom and must hold onto prey while they slowly constrict around the animal. The majority of pythons have heat sensing pits along their jaw used to track their prey.
In the Australian tropics there are 10 species, and the favourites are the scrub python (Morelia amethistina), green python (Morelia viridis) and carpet python (Morelia spilota). The scrub python is the largest reaching up to six metres. Pythons will eat other rainforest animals including frogs, lizards, other snakes, birds, and mammals. All pythons lay eggs with the mother incubating the young with heat produced from a shivering motion.
Rainforest Snakes – Boas (Boidae)
As a suggestion for what to do in the Amazon Rainforest, spotting for boas is a very popular activity among Amazon Jungle tours, with the most sort after being the anaconda. For more information on anacondas, see Amazon Rainforest snakes.
The boas, like pythons, are a non venomous constricting group. You can find boas in the rainforests of Asia, Central and South America and Africa. Like rainforest pythons, these snakes kill their food by constriction, coiling around their prey then squeezing every time the creature breathes out. This eventually means the unfortunate animal cannot breathe and ultimately suffocates.
Two of the favourite boas in the Amazon Rainforest are the rainbow boa (Epicrates cenchria) due to its attractive iridescent sheen and the famous anaconda (Eunectes spp.) because of its impressive size. All boas give birth to live young.
My fondest memory from the Amazon Rainforest is from staying at the Tahuayo Lodge and seeing a large anaconda uncoil and swim centimeters under my canoe.
Rainforest Snakes – Vipers (Viperidae)
- Fer de lance
- Likes Tracks
- Medically Important
The vipers are a venomous group found in the rainforests of South and Central America, Asia, and Africa. These are generally the most infamous rainforest snakes, and you will most likely hear rainforest guides telling stories about close encounters with this group. One of the most formidable in the Amazon is the impressively sized bushmaster (Lachesis spp.), but the snake to look out for in the Amazon Rainforest is the lancehead (Bothrops spp.), which likes to sun itself on man made tracks.
If you are walking with a professional guide, they are very effective at spotting these snakes as they encounter them regularly. I rushed excitedly ahead of my guide and almost stepped on this species a few years ago. Impressively my guide spotted the nose pointing out from an upturned leaf and alerted me to its presence.
Whenever you are walking in the rainforest ensure you have appropriate footwear covering as much of your foot and lower leg as possible. Make sure you can see over a fallen log or stump to where you are next placing your hand or foot. Around 60% of all snake bites could have been prevented by wearing boots that cover the ankle.
Rainforest Snakes – Elapids (Elapidae)
Elapids are venomous snakes that have a sophisticated venom delivery system. The bites of various elapids range from mildly venomous such as the white crowned snake (Cacophis harriettae) from Australia rainforests to the highly venomous black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis) of the African Congo.
All elapids feed on vertebrates, taking rodents, other snakes, lizards and frogs. Queensland, home of the Australian rainforest, has 49 species of different elapid. The Australian Wet Tropics is home to 30% of all Australia’s snake fauna.
Photography: Contact Björn Adolfsson