This page covers those species of snake that do not fall into either the colubrid or viper families.
The Family Typhlopidae, or Blind Snakes, consists of over 200 small and slender snakes that for the most part lead a subterranean existence, preying on small insects such as termites. Their eyes are usually vestigial and covered over. They are far more abundant in the tropics and Australia, but one species finds its way into Europe.
The Family Boidae, or Boas and Pythons, is much better known. Even so, the person conjuring up an image of the well-known Boa constrictor hanging from the branches of a tree may be somewhat surprised by European boas. These belong to the genus Eryx and, although much bigger than the Typhlopidae, lead a somewhat similar existence, namely spending much time buried in soil or sand. Their bodies show adaptations to this mode of life, such as small eyes that sometimes are closer to the top of the head and an undersunk mouth (ie the upper jaw overhangs the lower jaw, making it harder for dirt to enter the mouth). Again, these snakes are more abundantly represented elsewhere in the warmer parts of the world, but a few find their way into the European and Eurasian areas. None are large or dangerous.
|Typlops vermicularis, Worm Snake||Eryx jaculus, Sand Boa||Eryx miliaris, Desert Sand Boa|
|Scientific Name||Common Name||Distribution||Size||Notes|
|Typhlops vermicularis||Worm Snake||S. Balkans, Gk. islands: N. Egypt, E. of Caucasus mtns||14"||The Typhlopidae genus are a primitive order of snakes resembling in some ways the amphisbaenians: their eyesight is fairly limited, capable of only distinguishing light and darkness, and they hide under stones or more usually underground in burrows that they excavate themselves. Unlike amphisbaenians, however, their skin is very smooth, being made up of many tiny scales, and the creatures themselves are very slim, less than half an inch in diameter. There are about 200 species of so-called "Thread Snake" but the Worm Snake is the only representative in Europe. However, within its range it is fairly abundant and can be found from sandy shores to moist areas in mountains, to dry steppes. A good place to find them is in or near anthills, since they prey almost exclusively on ant pupae. Their skin is thick to protect them against ant bites, but they are armed with teeth in the upper jaw only, and these are very small. The other defence mechanism of the Worm Snake is its tail, which being thicker than the head is more likely to be attacked by predators. Breeding season is May-June, when females lay 6-8 elongated eggs in specially dug burrows. Scales across body: 21-24. Clutch/Brood size: 6-8.|
|Eryx jaculus||Sand Boa||SE. Balkans, Dobrogean (Rumania): N. Africa, SW Asia||32"||The Eryx genus is the only genus of the Family Boidae (boas and pythons) to inhabit Europe, and most of its 10 species live elsewhere or have extensive ranges outside as well as within Europe. As a genus Sand Boas are distinguished by short tails, a reasonably stocky body (in common with many other boas and pythons) and very small eyes. The Sand Boa tends to seek out the warmest areas in its area, such as bushy slopes in river valleys, or open scrubland thinly planted with shrubs. It utilises large stones or rodent burrows for shelter. Like many snakes it is nocturnal and in daylight will normally only be found first thing in the morning when basking for a short while. Preferred food is lizards and rodents, especially the young: prey is constricted. Breeding season is August-September, when females give birth to up to 20 young about 14 cm long. These babies feed on small lizards. Scales across body: 40-50. Clutch/Brood size: Up to 20, Aug-Sept.|
|E. j. turcicus||SE. Balkans, Dobrogean (Rumania): N. Africa, SW Asia|
|E. j. familiaris||Transcaucasia|
|Eryx miliaris||Desert Sand Boa||Caspian Sea||20?"||Differs from other Eryx species in that its eyes are situated closer to the top of its head. It is found mainly in sandy regions near the Caspian.|
Lurche und Kriechtiere Europas, Engelmann, Fritzsche, Günther and Obst, Enke, Leipzig 1986.
Collins Field Guide to Reptiles & Amphibians of Britain & Europe, E N Arnold, J A Burton and D W Ovenden, HarperCollins, London 1978. An invaluable guide, although a few of the taxonomic details are in need of revision.
Reptiles and Amphibians of Europe, Walter Hellmich, Blandford Press, London 1962. Taxonomy is rather outdated but useful on details of appearance, habitat and subspecies.
Snakes of the World, Chris Mattison, Blandford Press.
"An Introduction to Reptiles and Amphibians of the Greek Islands", David Buttle, Reptilian 3:7. Very useful article not just for the distribution of herps in the area but also for ecology and details of lesser-known species.
EMBL reptile database - the best Internet resource I have found for up-to-date taxonomy and bibliographies for reptile species.
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