JoAnna Mitchell, Staff Writer
On April 4, a student in Dr. George Cline’s herpetology class found a rare species of snake in a flowerbed in Baldwin County.
The Brahminy blind snake has been found in Alabama on only two verified occasions. The first was found in Theodore, Ala. in Mobile County only a month ago and released back into the wild.
Cline’s specimen was sent to Auburn University on April 7 where Raymond Corey of the Alabama Herpetological Society confirmed its identity. It will be used for educational purposes in their herpetology department. According to Auburn University, this is the only vouchered specimen for the state of Alabama.
The scientific name for the species is Indotyphlops braminus, which comes from Indo, meaning India or Indonesia, typhlops, a Greek word meaning “the blind” and Brahmin, a caste of Hindus. Brahminy blind snakes are found on almost every continent, but cold temperatures prevent northern expansion. The blind snake spends most of its time underground and has developed reduced eyes that sense light and dark as opposed to seeing like most snakes.
Brahminy blind snakes are often mistaken for worms due to their small size. The snake is very slender and typically only reaches around 200 mm, or 8 in. in length. The blindsnake is not venomous, and if it were, its mouth is too small to be able to bite a human. They feed on soft-bodied invertebrates such as ants, ant eggs and termites.
This species of snake is the only known all-female species.
“Females are able to produce viable, fertile eggs without being fertilized by male sperm. his process is called parthenogenesis, and it can be seen in numerous invertebrates and vertebrates (some fishes, amphibians, and lizards),” said Cline. “This is the only species of snake in the world that can reproduce in this manner.”
Furthermore, this species is also considered triploid, meaning that even though they only have one parent, they have three sets of chromosomes.
While triploidy is common in plants, most sexually reproducing species, including humans, are diploid, receiving one set of chromosomes from the mother and one set from the father.
“Usually, individuals that have unbalanced (odd-numbered) sets of chromosomes suffer high mortality,” said Cline. “Brahminy blind snakes have somehow solved that problem evolutionarily.”
The implications of finding this non-native species in Alabama are hard to pin-point.
“It’s a non-native with no native predators,” said Cline. “Its ability to reproduce from a single specimen suggests that its population size could increase rapidly.”
If left unchecked, Brahminy blind snakes may dominate fossorial competition and have negative effects on native underground invertebrates.
Invasive species are appearing in the country, both accidentally and intentionally, at an increasing rate. Several species, such as geckos and anoles, have been introduced by the sale of ornamental plants. Others, like cane toads and pythons, have been introduced through the exotic pet trade.
“More insidious are the diseases that have been introduced, for example the chestnut blight, Dutch Elm disease and avian flu in birds,” said Cline. “We just don’t know what impact blindsnakes could have.”