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Sunbeam Snakes: Xenopeltidae

Common Sunbeam Snake (xenopeltis Unicolor): Species Account

Physical characteristics: The common sunbeam snake has a dark purplish brown back, but its smooth scales shine in blues, greens, reds, and yellows when the animal slithers out on a bright, sunny day. Its belly is whitish. That whitish color extends into a collar around the back of the head and front of the neck in juveniles. The snakes have wedged-shaped heads that help them to dig into the soil. Adults usually reach less than 3 feet (0.9 meters) in length, but some can grow to 49 inches (1.25 meters).

Geographic range: The common sunbeam snake lives in southern China and Southeast Asia.

Habitat: The common sunbeam snake is semifossorial (SEM-ee-faw-SOR-ee-ul). "Fossorial" means it lives below ground, and the term "semi" Sunbeam snakes spend at least part of their time underground, hidden in leaves or under trash. (Illustration by Jonathan Higgins. Reproduced by permission.) means they only spend part of their time there. They are most often seen at the edges of forests or in the farm fields and neighborhoods nearby.

Diet: In the wild, they eat lizards, especially skinks, as well as frogs, snakes, small mammals, and small birds. Captive snakes will eat mice.

Behavior and reproduction: This snake stays underground much of the day and comes out at night to hunt. In captivity, it kills mice by constriction (kun-STRIK-shun), which is the ability to squeeze a prey animal until it cannot breathe and therefore dies. When threatened, the common sunbeam snake will shake its tail and, if touched, will jerk its body. Females lay up to seventeen eggs at a time, and eggs reportedly hatch in about seven to eight weeks, but scientists know little else about its reproduction.

Common sunbeam snakes and people: The common sunbeam snake and people leave one another alone.

Conservation status: This snake is not listed as endangered or threatened. ∎



Burnie, David, and Don Wilson, eds. The Definitive Visual Guide to the World's Wildlife. New York: DK Publishing, 2001.

Campden-Main, S. M. A Field Guide to the Snakes of South Vietnam. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1970.

Cox, M. J. The Snakes of Thailand and Their Husbandry. Malabar, FL: Krieger Publishing Company, 1991.

Deuve, J. Serpents du Laos. Paris: ORSTOM, 1970.

Grace, Eric, ed. Snakes. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books for Children, 1994.

Mehrtens, John M. Living Snakes of the World in Color. New York: Sterling Publishing, 1987.

Taylor, Barbara. Snakes. New York: Lorenz, 1998.

Zug, G. R., L. J. Vitt, and J. P. Caldwell. Herpetology: An Introductory Biology of Amphibians and Reptiles, 2nd ed. San Diego: Academic Press, 2001.

Web sites

"Sunbeam Snake (Iridescent Earth Snake)." Ecology Asia. http://www.ecologyasia.com/Vertebrates/sunbeam_snake.htm (accessed on September 21, 2004).

"Sunbeam Snake (Xenopeltis unicolor)." Science Museums of China. http://smc.kisti.re.kr/animal/class/cls310.html (accessed on September 21, 2004).

"Sunbeam Snake or Iridescent Earth Snake." Wild Singapore. http://www.wildsingapore.per.sg/discovery/factsheet/snakesunbeam.htm (accessed on September 21, 2004).

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceDinosaurs, Snakes, and Other ReptilesSunbeam Snakes: Xenopeltidae - Physical Characteristics, Diet, Behavior And Reproduction, Sunbeam Snakes And People, Common Sunbeam Snake (xenopeltis Unicolor): Species Account - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, CONSERVATION STATUS