There are many beautiful snakes in the world, with unique, colourful patterns covering their slithery bodies. But one family of snakes might take the prize for being the most beautiful out there. Even their name, the sunbeam snakes, is reminiscent of a lovely summer’s day.
There are two species of sunbeam snakes, both of which are placed in the family Xenopeltidae. They are found in Southeast Asia, from China to Malaysia and the Philippines. They are mostly fossorial, spending the majority of their time underground, and only coming out at night. Sunbeam snakes are fairly adaptable, being able to survive in forests, marshes, scrublands, and human-impacted areas, such as agricultural fields and gardens.
Sunbeam snakes grow to be about a meter in length. Their heads and necks are shaped so they can easily wiggle their way through the soil. They look fairly boring in the darkness of their underground homes, being simply dark brown or purple, without any notable markings. It is in the sun that the sunbeam snakes really turn into natural wonders. For sunbeam snakes are covered in iridescent scales that shimmer and shine in a myriad of colours in sunlight. They really are quite enchanting.
Sunbeam snakes get by on a simple diet of small vertebrates, including frogs, other snakes, and mammals. They are not venomous, killing their prey through constriction. When threatened, sunbeam snakes will waggle their tails like rattlesnakes, and will try to flee.
Thanks to their beautiful iridescence, sunbeam snakes are hunted both for their skin and for the pet trade. They do not, however, make good pets, as the stress of captivity and handling usually lead to their deaths within six months of capture. Thankfully, sunbeam snakes are plentiful enough and adaptable enough that they are not yet threatened — let’s hope things stay that way!
Cover image by Bochr, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons, cropped to fit