The Whitaker Boa
Author: Rahul Alvares
Photo: Rahul Alvares.
A non-poisonous snake, the Whitaker boa is found in the coastal parts of the southern Western Ghats and is named after the famous herpetologist Romulus Whitaker.
Around nine p.m., one evening, I heard a loud squeak just outside my room. I knew immediately that it was the sound of a rat in trouble. Torch in hand I dashed out and was immediately treated to the sight of a Whitaker boa strangling the life out of a small rodent.
Knowing that neither the boa nor the rat was going anywhere soon I dashed back into my room! In less than twenty seconds I was back out with my camera.
The Whitaker boa has a smooth appearance with very faint irregular blotches on its reddish-coloured skin. It has a blunt rounded smooth-scaled tail as compared to the rough, pointed tail of the common sand boa. Earlier it was thought to be a subspecies of the Indian sand boa but Romulus Whitaker recognised it as a unique species found only in the Western Ghats. Like other boas, it gives birth to live.
Whitaker boas have notoriously poor eyesight, so the torch light wasn’t going to be an issue at all. I stepped around the snake cautiously to make sure I didn’t produce too many vibrations that could disturb it. But I might as well have been stomping around since the snake was too involved in squeezing its struggling prey!
In a few minutes, the rat was effectively suffocated and dead. A minute after the rodent had stopped moving the boa relinquished its hold on the animal and then began flicking its tongue. I knew, of course, that it was trying to locate its prey’s head. Apparently the head of a rat smells different from the rest of its body and a snake’s tongue is sensitive enough to tell the difference.
Once it had located the head, the reptile slowly opened its jaws and clamped them around the rodent’s muzzle. Then, as I clicked away with my camera, it began ‘walking’ its upper jaw along the body of the rat. As one side of the snake’s upper jaw maintained a firm hold on the mouse the other side would lift up, move ahead and sink back in. Then the same process would repeat with the other side of the upper jaw.
By the time the snake’s mouth moved on to the shoulders of the rodent, its lower jaw had fully disengaged from the upper jaw. It moved independently of the upper jaw but nevertheless kept pace with it.
In less than ten minutes the snake had completely engulfed the rodent. With the rodent now securely inside its belly the snake began flicking its tongue again. Perhaps to find a burrow to crawl into, or maybe to find another rodent!
Much as I was ok with having the boa around I couldn’t take a chance having it hanging around the front of my room. It wouldn’t be long before my dog or a cat found it and started harassing it. So I gently picked it up with my snake hook and placed it in a thickly forested patch on the other side of our compound wall.
Being a boa, I knew, it would be at least another two months before it would need food again!
First appeared in: Sanctuary Cub, January, 2014.