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The Large-Scaled Shieldtail

The Large-Scaled Shieldtail

Rahul Alvares, 31, is a wildlife consultant and snake rescuer based in Goa. He also edits an online newsletter called The Creepy Times. Be sure to check out his website: www.rahulalvares.com

September 2011: Rahul Alvares is delighted at the chance to see a large-scaled shiedtail munch on its favourite meal, an earthworm and is sure you’re going to find them very interesting too.

“Hey look, it’s a snake eating another snake!” exclaimed Glen, a client of mine. It was about eight in the morning and Glen was sitting on one side of a veranda wall sipping his coffee while his wife tried to coax his two children to finish their breakfast. The kids immediately dashed off to look over the wall and started squealing with excitement.

I, however, gave the comment the benefit of doubt and remained reclined in my chair. Obviously this could not be true. Granted we were at Amboli (an excellent spot to find snakes) but we were on the veranda outside our room and this was broad daylight. It would be difficult to find a snake here, let alone a snake eating another snake.

But the kids kept shouting, so Igot up and reluctantly walked thefive steps to peer over the wall.The sight that met my eyes jolted me wide awake like a bucket of ice cold water emptied over someone fast asleep. In an instant I had my camera ready and had dashed around to the other side of the wall to start taking pictures.

The large-scaled shieldtail is named this way because of the large, keratinous, rigid scale, like a shield, at the tip of its tail. This particular species of shieldtail is fairly common across India.Photograph by Rahul Alvares.

Glen had been wrong just as I’d guessed. This was not a snake eating another snake but in fact it was something even more exciting. It was a shieldtail gobbling up an earthworm!

The small yellow and black snake seemed totally oblivious to me and my flashing camera only two feet (60.96 cm.) away. Shieldtails mostly remain hidden in loose soil or leaf litter and as a consequence probably have lousy vision. It was little wonder that the snake remained engrossed in swallowing the earthworm. The large worm which was probably more than half the length of the shieldtail was engulfed quickly. With the worm gone the shieldtail immediately started looking around for a hole to crawl into.

So long as the snake was feeding I had restrained myself from handling it. But now that it was done, I gently picked it up and brought it out into the sunlight. The little snake tried to wriggle free but it seemed more bothered by the sunlight than by my handling it.

Holding the wriggling reptile in one hand and snapping away with my camera using the other, I tried to get a few close-ups of its face and tail. But the snake’s non-cooperation coupled with a totally unsuitable camera lens rendered all the photographs useless. After a few minutes I gave up. I let the children touch it and then released it into some moist leaf litter.

I looked at Glen and shook my head with mild embarrassment. This was not the first time I’d been reminded of the fact that nature doesn’t differentiate between the expert and the rank beginner when it comes to revealing its most interesting and intimate secrets.

Shieldtail snakes are usually small snakes, and not overly vicious either. They prefer to remain in leaf litter or hidden in earthy holes from where they emerge to ambush their prey.Photograph by Rahul Alvares.

by Rahul Alvares, First appeared in: Sanctuary Cub, September 2011.


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