Identifying species in Hong Kong can be very difficult for some snakes
Mimicry is a common defense tactic in the natural world and harmless snakes mimicking deadly species is one of the more common forms produced through evolution
Wolf snakes in particular and especially juveniles of the species mimic Hong Kong’s most venomous snake
We find out in this Snake Diary how effectively they accomplish this and why its so dangerous to assume you may have properly identified a snake correctly
We spoke about Wolf Snakes mimicking Many Banded Kraits in a previous Snake Diary, but now we have observed juveniles of each of the species in question and have additional photographic supplements to aid a more comprehensive review. So let’s dive in!
How’d you do? Well for those who knew or guessed correctly congratulations, for those who didn’t don’t feel bad, most people including many experts can easily get this one wrong especially in the jungle late at night. (If you’re not familiar with these species check them out on www.HongKongSnakeID.com before you continue).
So, how do you tell the difference between these three species and avoid potentially deadly interactions with a Many Banded Krait?
To start, we can discuss the single most effective differentiator between these three snakes: Dorsal Scales. What are ‘Dorsal Scales’? As you’d imagine they are the scales the run along the middle of the snakes spine on the top of the body and if you look closely here you’ll see one of these snakes is not like the others. Can you see it? That’s right, the snake in the middle has enlarged dorsal scales, where the snakes on the left and right have uniformly sized scales. As you might have guessed the one in the middle is the Many Banded Krait and this point of differentiation, as far as we know is consistent across individuals of the species. With that said in order to make this determination you’d have to be quite close to the snake which would have to be quite still so even though it is an effective differentiator it’s rarely safe to do so.
Now let’s talk head scales. On snakes this small getting this close to their head could be quite dangerous so unfortunately we need to lead off by saying this is not a great approach to differentiating the species. Perhaps more importantly, if you look closely at the above image and ignore the color differences for a moment you’ll see that each of these snakes have very similar head scales. If you don’t believe me go ahead and count them! Also, just to clarify, even small snakes can have wide variation in color so the differences here will not be consistent across individuals.
What about markings? Well, yes there are some difference in the markings in general, but there is also so much variation amongst individuals as noted before that you could find yourself looking at a Banded Wolf that looks just like a Many Banded or worse the other way around! That said let’s talk about the general differences. The Futsing’s is arguably the most unique with pink/grey bands that all have very rough edges against the black. Like the Many Banded Krait the Futsing’s bands are generally evenly spaced but become very roughly defined towards the tail. The Banded Wolf Snake is much more similar to the Many Banded Krait in terms of it’s bands being evenly spaced and generally well defined, however they are often more widely spaced than the Many Banded especially towards the tail. The Many Banded Krait has well defined smoothly delineated white bands that are slightly more wide spread towards the head and more tightly grouped towards the tail. Each snake can have more or less white coloration around the head depending on the individual but the Futsing’s tends to have consistently more either white or pink coloration across the whole head right up to the nose.
Just to overemphasize, markings is probably the worst way to assume an identification of these snakes so don’t take any chances, but if you can view from a safe distance or get a reliable picture the above points might be helpful.
So what’s the major takeaway on telling these three species apart? Unfortunately as with the last article on Kraits and Wolf Snakes there is no surefire way to tell these three apart on the fly, but for the experienced observer or people in a position to safely observe stationary animals the dorsal scale size is a pretty consistent way to know if you’re dealing with a Krait or not.
Now to end on a sobering note, an acquaintance of ours who is a professional snake catcher and experienced snake keeper was given an adult Banded Wolf Snake to take care of before releasing back into the wild. In order to make sure it was healthy and ready to go our friend wanted to feed it several meals, but it was reluctant to eat. As a result it had to be force feed which involves holding the snake by the head and pushing the food item into its mount until it begins to swallow it. This was done several times before our friend noticed two little nubs at the front of the snakes mouth. Out of curiosity he opened the snakes mouth wider and quickly realized that he was looking at the short fangs of a Many Banded Krait! Luckily he avoided a bite which could have proved deadly and is also a testament to the snakes lack of interest in attacking a human.
I think this serves as a good reason not to be too cavalier when interacting with white banded snakes in Hong Kong, and hope that the information provided here was both useful and interesting.
If you would like to learn more about the Wolf Snakes or Kraits please visit their pages on www.HongKongSnakeID.com.
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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.
*From left to right: Futsing’s Wolf Snake, Many Banded Krait, Banded Wolf Snake