We Need to Talk About Kraits and Wolf Snakes...


  • The SnakeID team head out for a jungle walk and discover some fantastic Wolf Snakes

  • After some sketchy bagging and extended photo shoots it becomes clear how dangerous one particular species of Wolf Snake is due to its mimicry of Hong Kong’s deadliest snake

It had been a great year for Adam and Rob with HongKongSnakeID.com. Just this season they had discovered 27 species and recorded them in detail with new pictures and lots of video. But the season and the hunt was not over and they decided to head out to a jungle location where several species of Wolf Snake were known to be found. As a jungle walk it was going to be hit or miss in terms of what they might find, but as luck would have it the Snake Gods were on their side.

After a hour or so looking around some hot spots nothing had been found and the group decided to move on to another location, but just as they hit the road Rob spotted black and white bands slithering by a wall and called out to Adam. Adam took one look and said “juvie Many Banded?”, but Rob’s trained eye dialed in and he noted that he wasn’t sure. As soon as Rob said this Adam took a closer look and agreed that it looked much more like a Wolf Snake due to the spacing of the bands and the coloration on the top of the head. But this was a dangerous gamble as a juvenile wolf snake will bite but is completely harmless whereas a Many Banded Krait will bite and can kill you!

Just as they had gotten comfortable with their identification the little snake slithered into a storm drain, but Adam and Rob thinking quickly lifted the drain cover and managed to safely extract the snake before it got lost in the pipes. After safely bagging the little snake they moved to an open location to take some quick photos and send out to a wider group of Snake experts to confirm the identification. As luck would have it everyone concurred that it was a Wolf Snake, though there was some initial back and forth on which species it was, everyone eventually agreed it was a Banded Wolf Snake - Lycodon subcinctus (head over to the ‘All Snakes Page’ and look at the four species of Wolf Snake for yourself to see what everyone was on about…).

Before the evening was done the group found three more species including a Fustings Wolf Snake making for a great result to the trip.

The Banded Wolf Snake was held until the next day for a photo shoot, and it was after this session when Adam was doing some photo editing where he realized just how dangerous the Banded Wolf Snakes mimicry of the Many Banded Krait can be, and how important it is to never assume, even as an expert, that you have identified a snake properly. To illustrate the problem take a look at these comparison photos of a juvenile Many Banded Krait and the juvenile Banded Wolf Snake. Would you be willing to bet you've guessed the right one on a dark night in the jungle?….

Many Banded Krait Left Banded Wolf Snake Right

Many Banded Krait Left Banded Wolf Snake Right

So how do you tell the difference? Well unfortunately there is no 100% accurate way outside of checking for fangs and DNA testing, but there are a few basic indicators that are generally helpful though never definitive. Here they are:

Are you catching the theme? Despite there being some indicators there is no completely accurate way to differentiate these two in the field given how much variation there is in color and pattern between and within species.

For snakers this represents a bit of a conundrum but the good news is for the general population it just means never approach a snake in the wild, observe from a distance only, especially if its got black and white bands! Have some fun with the gallery below and see if you can figure out which are the Wolf Snakes and which are the Kraits! Helpful tip, the Many Banded Krait and Banded Wolf Snake pages on the All Snakes Page should be of assistance…

For more great pictures of the Banded Wolf Snake and the Many Banded Krait check out the gallery in their full write ups on the Banded Wolf Snake and Many Banded Krait pages of HongKongSnakeID.com or check us out on YouTube and Instagram.

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As always the opinions included here are solely those of the author(s). You should never handle or approach a snake in the wild and if you are bitten contact emergency services at '999' immediately. See our Practical Venomous Snake ID Guide if you plan to be out and about with nature in Hong Kong, and scroll through the page to obtain more advice on what to do if you are bitten as well as for snake removal services.