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Snakes (gata) in Samoa!

April 11, 2011

Ramphotyphlops braminus

Snakes in Samoa? You bet. Two kinds, one right here on Tutuila Island and the other on Ta’u Island. Also fortunately, neither is poisonous, both mind their own business, and they are no threat to anyone. On Tutuila, we have an unusually small black snake that looks like an odd earthworm about 6 inches long. A closer inspection reveals that it has tiny scales (see close-up photo). It’s called the Australoasian blindsnake (Ramphotyphlops braminus), because it has almost no eyes and it burrows through the soil. This secretive nocturnal snake is occasionally found by someone digging in their garden. It eats small soil creatures like termites and insect larvae. This harmless snake is widely distributed around the world, but it is not native to our islands. It was probably introduced here when its eggs were carried in the soil attached to some imported plants or machinery. In 1993, it was found in the Tafuna area. Others have been found in the Pago Pago and Alega.

The other snake found infrequently on Ta’u Island is the gata or Pacific boa (Candoia bibroni). It also occurs in western Samoa. At one time it inhabited Tutuila Island (its bones were found there) but it went extinct for unknown reasons. On Ofu, an older resident remembers seeing one there when he was a child. The Pacific boa is more commonly found on islands closer to Indonesia; American Samoa appears to be the eastward limit of its distribution. Rather than being a native species here, it is thought to have been introduced by early Polynesians. It can grow to a respectable length of 3 to 6 feet and is tan or darkly colored, but its coloration can be variable. This species is usually found in forests, it is active mainly at night, and it probably eats lizards, rats, and small birds and bird eggs.

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