Tiny snake in Cayman different

While the Cayman Islands is home to an introduced species of tiny snake, this is a different type to the one recently billed the world’s smallest snake by the US scientist who discovered it in Barbados.


The Brahminy blind snake in Mr. Watlers hand.
Photo: Cliodhna Doherty

Penn State University biologist S. Blair Hedges discovered the world’s smallest snake recently and named it Leptotyphlops carlae after his wife Carly. He noted that full-grown adults are typically less than four inches or 10 centimetres long (see Caymanian Compass, 12 August).

Just this week, Mr. Ken Watler found a similar tiny snake in his home in West Bay and brought it to the Cayman Islands Department of Environment to find out if it was the same one discovered in Barbados. ‘I’ve seen these here all my life,’ he said, referring to it as a Thread Snake.

Having looked at Mr. Watler’s snake, Senior Research Officer with the CI Department of Environment Mat DaCosta-Cottam, said it was a Brahminy blind snake (Ramphotyphlops braminus), a snake that had been introduced to Cayman probably from the US and that is commonly seen here, particularly in the saucers of flowerpots.

Mr. DaCosta-Cottam had only ever seen the snake found in Barbados in a photograph that appeared in the Caymanian Compass, and although it looked similar, he said he would have to defer to Mr. Blair Hedges’ expertise – that he had discovered a different snake. Because, as a reptile expert, Mr. Hedges would surely already be familiar with the Brahminy blind snake, he said.

The Caymanian Compass got in touch by phone with Mr. Hedges at Penn State University and he confirmed that the DoE was correct in its assertion.

He said the Brahminy blind snake is very well known to scientists. He himself has long been familiar with the Brahminy blind snake, he said, and has even seen it here in the Cayman Islands when he visited.

It is a different family of snake to the one found in Barbados, he said.

He noted that adult Brahminy blind snakes are larger than the snake discovered in the Bahamas, although hatchlings tend to be tiny.

However, many people have been contacting him from all over, asking if the Brahminy blind snake is the same one as the new discovery.

In fact, the two tiny snakes are quite different, he asserts. ‘The scales and many other things are different, but they both happen to be a small snake,’ he said.

In fact, there are hundreds of species of small snake, he said.

While the Brahminy blind snake is not endemic to the Cayman Islands, there are blind snakes that are endemic in Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac, he said. These are larger (about the size of a pen) and more pink or brownish than the black colour of the Brahminy blind snake.

Mr. DaCosta-Cottam noted that the Brahminy blind snake is commonly seen in the Cayman Islands, often mistaken to be a worm or a grub. ‘They are completely harmless,’ he said.

An interesting feature they have, he noted, is that they have a hook shaped point on the tip of their tail which anchors their tail and allows them to push themselves forward through the soil.

While the Brahminy blind snake is found mostly in Africa and Asia, it has been introduced into many other parts of the world and has often been given the name flowerpot snake because they have been introduced to other places through the plant trade.

The tiny eyes are covered with translucent scales, rendering these snakes almost entirely blind.