It took just a snake to bring Ashok Captain all the way from Pune to Thiruvananthapuram. A snake taxonomist and photographer, Mr. Captain is here to study the rare Kerala mud snake (Enhydris dussumieri), the only water snake endemic to Kerala.
Mud snakes are advanced, yet little known, inhabiting a variety of freshwater and marine habitats. They are believed to have evolved in the shallow, muddy waters created as the Himalayan mountains eroded and the silt was carried by rivers into the oceans. They inhabit shallow muddy waters and marshes.
The Indian variety is represented by four species, namely the Kerala, the Rainbow, Soebold's and Boie's mud snakes.
However, the Kerala one has remained relatively unknown to science, because of its restricted distribution.
The only information available was based on descriptions by western herpetologists based on the specimens deposited at Hamburg and Paris Museum. There are no museum specimens of the species available in Indian museums and it has not been photographed live so far.
Dr. Bijukumar of the Dept. of Aquatic Biology and Fisheries, University of Kerala who collected the snake from the Vellayani lake here, sent the photographs to Mr. Captain who confirmed its identity.
The specimen will now make its way to the collections of the Bombay Natural History Society.
The snake, photographed live for the first time, is orange brown above, with blue iridescence in sunlight. There are three continuous uninterrupted lines in the middle of the belly and the ventral side is pink to light orange.
According to Mr. Bijukumar, fishermen occasionally come across the snake in the marginal areas of the Vellayani lake and its flood plains. Locally the snake is known as “kanda pampu” (paddy snake) in southern Kerala and “cheli kutta” (mud snake) in the north.
Unlike others of its ilk in India, the species is timid and inoffensive. It is slightly venomous and fishermen say the bite is painful. It feeds on fish and frogs and gives birth to young ones unlike other water snakes that lay eggs.
“Much remains to be known to science about this snake, particularly on its distribution, biology and genetic linkages,” says Mr. Captain.