GUY-13: Unusual Creatures of Guyana - Black-headed Calico Snake
Sharmain Grainger Kaieteur News mayo 2007
It was only discovered in Guyana last year but the black-headed Calico snake (Oxyrhopus melanogenys) which is said to belong to the false coral snakes’ group made quite an impressionable impact.
This intriguing reptile according to reports was first discovered by Tschudi in 1845.
But it was on December 5, 2006 that an equally astounding discovery was made in the Wokomung Massif in the Mazaruni-Potaro District by Dr. Bruce Means of the Coastal Plains Institute and Land Conservancy of the United States and Guyana’s very own Michelle Kalamandeen of the Centre for the Study of Biological Diversity, University of Guyana.
The discovery was quite a rare feat since people and false coral type snakes hardly ever come into contact with each other.
Kalamandeen reports that little is known about the biology and ecology of this snake species but like all snakes of the Colubridae family (to which this species belongs) they are either ground dwelling or tree-dwelling.
According to some reports these reptiles are said to spend much of their time in burrows in loose soil and so live in rainforests, especially in low-lying areas near streams or other waterways.
The false coral snakes are also said to be non-poisonous and usually stay out of sight during the light of day.
Kalamandeen revealed that the first specimen for Guyana was found crawling through wet leaf litter on top of a log and a few moments later the slithery reptile was partially under a rock loosely embedded in dry overflow sediments of a rocky mountain stream.
False coral snakes are brightly coloured, orange, red, or pinkish and some are outfitted with fifty to sixty black bands. Each of the bands is two, three, or four scales wide.
In some members of this species, the black bands are incomplete. In other words, they only reach partway up the sides of the snake and do not meet at the top of the back. Sometimes, the individual orange, red, or pinkish scales are outlined in black, making the snake look slightly speckled. Its belly is all red, orange, or pinkish, with no black banding. All scales on its body are shiny and smooth, which means they have no ridges, or keels.
This non-venomous snake looks somewhat similar to the venomous, or poisonous, coral snake species that shares its habitat and is therefore regarded as false coral snakes.
The body of a false coral snake is about the same thickness from one end to the other, giving the snake an overall tube shape. Both the head and tail are short.
The only slight change in the body thickness of this snake is in its head, which flattens out a bit. The head, which is made of very thick bones, has two small eyes covered by scales, and the large jaws have cone-shaped teeth that are very slightly curved.
These snakes also have spurs, which are tiny, barely noticeable bits of bone that stick out near the vent. These reptiles often reach about two to three feet (0.6 to 1 meters) in length.
Before its discovery here, the closest known locality of this species Kalamandeen reveals is in French Guiana, but they can also be found in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Honduras and Brazil.
This record is notable she says because it fills in a distributional gap between French Guiana on the east and Venezuela on the west.
These serpents she reveals too are known for stalking and eating various lizard species at night, a venture which can occur in both primary and secondary forests. Delicacies such as small snakes and eels are also enjoyed by these snakes.
But it has been established, according to Kalamandeen, that in Guyana as elsewhere in South America, people have little tolerance for snakes and believe most are deadly and deserve to be killed, especially those that mock the deadly coral snakes.
The World Conservation Union (IUCN) considers them to be Data Deficient, which means that scientists have insufficient information in order to make a judgment about the threat of extinction. Destruction and other changes to their habitat, however, are probably threatening at least some populations.