10 August 2014 1 of 1

TIMOR-LESTE (Dili Distr.)



Some weeks ago I met Charles Cumming in the bar of the TLH (Timor Lodge Hotel). Charles wanted to talk to me about some snakes that had been seen at the Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport, where he is in charge of the fuel depots. The images he showed me were of snakes that had been encountered around his office, fuel trucks, and containers after heavy rain. All were Macklot's water pythons (Liasis mackloti). Charles then invited us down to the airport to check his work area for snakes, an offer I could finally accept once we were back in town. He picked us up at TLH and drove us to the airport fuel depot, and we checked under all the containers and in the storage areas but found no signs of snakes. The search was then extended outside Charles's area to include piles of rubble and other debris. The remnants of a slough from an Island wolfsnake (Lycodon capucinus) were found, followed by a live Brahminy blindsnake (Indotyphlops braminus), and then something rather strange turned up, another blindsnake but not one we had seen before. It was long, twice as long as the Brahminy blindsnake we are familiar with, and it had a yellowish head, but the most unusual thing was its width. If the Brahminy blindsnake is as thick as the inside of a biro (which is slender) then the new blindsnake was as thick as the lead from a propelling pencil, in other words very, very, slender. As slender as a blindsnakes of the family Leptotyphlopidae (which don't occur in the Indo-Australian Archipelago). Is it a new species or an introduction? This is an airport after all, but those are questions for later.

I set about photographing both blindsnakes and discovered something else interesting. Photographing the slender blindsnake on a piece of coconut trunk I found that it was so super slender it could glide effortlessly under the bark (see image below), something impossible for the other species. Perhaps it is a species that lives under bark, or in the narrow chambers of termite mounds, and has simply avoided detection and collection in the past due to its ability to disappear from view with such ease.

Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport
Office and containers - checked
Fuel tanker and storage area - checked
Hinrich indicates the rubble where the
slender blindsnake was uncovered
Brahminy blindsnake, Indotyphlops braminus
Slender blindsnake, Ramphotyphlops, Anilios or Indotyphlops sp.

Click on any image to enlarge it