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The Forsten’s Cat Snake

The Forsten’s Cat Snake

The Forsten’s cat snake is a giant among cat snakes. At a whopping 91 inches (231 cm.) maximum recorded length, it is the largest of all the cat snakes in India! Rahul Alvares describes his meetings with this remarkable reptile.

Forsten’s cat snake, the largest among all cat snakes in India, is named for its large, cat-like eyes. Photograph by Rahul Alvares.

Cat snakes are strange-looking snakes. As I thumbed through photographs in Romulus Whitaker and Ashok Captain’s book Snakes of India, I noticed that all of them have the cat-like eyes that probably give them their family name.

The first cat snake I ever saw was the common cat snake at the Pune Snake Park over 17 years ago. I had no camera at the time to photograph it. My second encounter with cat snakes happened when I visited the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station three years ago. This was a Beddome’s cat snake (or Ceylon cat snake since they are virtually indistinguishable from each other). Though I had my camera with me, I did not know much about photography at the time and my photographs turned out pretty lousy.

About a year ago, I found my third species of cat snake and this time, I was better prepared. Armed with a 100 mm. macro lens and some slick photography techniques, I went in for the shoot much more confident, and came out with some pretty pleasing results! Actually, this time I had two models for the shoot. Both were specimens rescued by a Forest Department snake rescuer, and were being held in a small snake pit at the Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary. The rescuer told me that they were supposed to be released back into the forest soon.

I was lucky they still had them on that day. I was also lucky that my ex-student and now snake-handling buddy, Zev Ginsberg, was with me that day. While he handled the snake, I took my shots. Macro lenses allow you to see so much more detail than the naked eye!

Here are some things that the lens can’t tell you though:

1. Cat snakes have a slim and laterally flattened body (that isn’t surprising since they live in trees!).

2. Cat snakes are nocturnal (not surprising either considering the strange-looking ‘cat eyes’ they have!).

3. Snakes of India mentions that these large snakes will feed on lizards, birds, bird eggs, bats, other small mammals and sometimes even other snakes!

4. Forsten’s cat snakes have two main colour forms. Compare the pictures and notice that one of the cat snakes is yellow and brown with white bands and the other is grey and black with white bands.

The mildly-venomous Forsten’s cat snake is mainly nocturnal, emerging at night to hunt for rats, lizards, birds and other prey.Photograph by Rahul Alvares.

Author: Rahul Alvares, First appeared in: Sanctuary Cub, March 2013.


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