The genus Ahaetulla consists of five species, including the nominate subspecies. They are found throughout Asia and the Indian Subcontinent, eastwards into Southeast Asia and southwards into Australia.
Their common names refer to the fact that they are whipsnakes, due to the shape of their tail.
They are venomous elapids, and some species are considered dangerous. The most widely known member of the genus is Asian vine snake, commonly called the Malayan pit viper.
The generic name derives from the Greek haeetus “whip”, and ulla “tail”.
The body form is extremely slim with a long, pointed snout which is almost twice as long as the eyes. The head is slightly flattened dorsoventrally; the rostral shield is much shorter than the prefrontals, and there is no supraocular. The dorsal scales are smooth except for the posterior row of enlarged, keeled scales along the midline. A single pair of supralabials is present, followed by three pairs of infralabials. Ventrals are smooth. The anal plate is divided into 2 large subunits. There are 8 rows of gulars, each with 16-18 scales. Gular fold length is about half the total length of the body.
The color pattern consists of a pale ground color overlaid with dark spots arranged in transverse bands across the dorsum and tail. The belly is white with black markings.
A juvenile specimen with a similar color pattern was described in 2002, but it differs in having fewer ventral scales (36-38 vs. 42-44), fewer lateral stripes (2-3 vs. 4-6), and a broader stripe on the nape (vs. none).
Distribution and Habitat
This snake occurs throughout most of tropical Africa south of the Sahara Desert, including the coastal areas of southern Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Angola, South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, and Eswatini. Its range extends northward into the Horn of Africa and eastward into the Arabian Peninsula.
Inhabiting both arid savanna and forested habitats, it is typically found near watercourses, such as rivers, streams, dams, irrigation channels, and lakes. It lives primarily in grasslands, although it may occur in dense vegetation. Unlike many other colubrid genera, this species does not require well-drained soil, and can survive in dry conditions.
This snake has a wide distribution across much of Southeast Asia, including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam. In some countries, such as Indonesia, there are no records of the species occurring outside protected areas.
The species has been recorded in southern India since 1990. Most specimens come from the Western Ghats, although one specimen was collected near Bangalore. Its presence in Karnataka is likely due to human introduction.
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Four subspecies are recognized, namely, the nominate race Asian vine snake, and Ahaetulla prasma. The latter three species occur in the Philippines; the former occurs on Sulawesi and Borneo.
Asian vine snake is found throughout Southeast Asia and Australia. Asian vine snake is known only from the Sulu Archipelago off northeastern Mindanao Island in the Philippines, where it lives in caves near waterfalls. Asian vine snake is endemic to the Philippines, where it inhabits limestone karst areas along rivers and streams, and is considered rare.
The world is divided into seven distinct climate zones – tropical, temperate, subarctic, arctic, desert, tundra, polar. Each zone is characterized by different temperatures and precipitation patterns.
Habits and Lifestyle
Asian vine snakes are arboreals and spend most of their lives in trees. They move easily and quickly amongst the branches as if floating on the crown of trees. These snakes are active during daylight hours and prefer to spend time alone ambushing their prey. If threatened they take an “S”-shaped defensive pose and puff up their neck. While venomous, they are not considered to cause serious harm to humans. Arboreal, ambush predator, terrestrial, precocial, ovoviviparous.
Asian vine snakes are not considered endangered at present. They are listed as vulnerable because they are found throughout Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, China and India. Their numbers are declining due to habitat loss and overcollection. In particular, many are collected for medicinal purposes, such as used in traditional Chinese medicines.