SINGAPORE – A snake not seen in Singapore for over 172 years was spotted in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve last month, according to a report filed on Thursday (Oct 31).
Dr John van Wyhe, a senior lecturer at the National University of Singapore, found the lined blind snake, also known by its scientific name Ramphotyphlops lineatus, dead on a bike trail of nature reserve on Sept. 16.
Striped and worm-like, but over 50cm in length, the black snake's discovery changes its previous status of "indeterminate" – or in need of verification – to "extant", now that its existence has definitely been recorded here in modern times.
"It was quite unexpected to find it in Singapore since it is an uncommonly seen species even in Malaysia," said Mr Law Ing Sind, who helped identify the snake. "We do not yet know the current population size or how that population is distributed in Singapore."
The 23-year-old co-founder of the Singapore Herpetological Society, an enthusiastic group for the study of reptiles and amphibians, said the features and habits of the lined blind snake could explain its elusiveness.
"The (snake) tends to burrow into the soft tropical soil in search of invertebrate prey, and so spends its entire life underground," he explained.
"They also have a great deal of superficial similarity with worms, so the public may just dismiss this as another worm when they encounter one."
Last seen in 1847, the lined blind snake has been so difficult to find that a 2015 National Parks Board (NParks) survey of reptiles and amphibians at Bukit Timah failed to detect it.
The recent re-discovery of the snake was documented in a report Thursday by Mr Law, Dr van Wyhe, and Ms Rachel Seah at Singapore Biodiversity Records, hosted by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum for local sightings. The trio noted in the report that the specimen was the longest one of the species.
They wrote: "The featured specimen is also of interest that it is about 4cm longer than the maximum total length recorded for the species, which is 48cm total length."
Due to its long 172-year absence from official records, "the featured specimen would, therefore, represent a significant re-discovery in Singapore", they added.
Following Dr van Wyhe's snake discovery last month, the dead reptile was moved to the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum with permission from the National Parks Board (NParks).
Taking a live animal out of the wild without permission or permission by NParks is an offensive here.
In May, NParks said it found more than 40 of what could turn out to be potentially new species to Singapore following a multi-year survey of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve between 2014 and last year.
The new species includes a six-eyed spider with shiny, hardened and dark-colored plates over the front of its body, which has been named Paculla bukittimahensis after the reserve.
The lined blind snake, however, was not detected then.
Mr Law said this was not surprising as there are about 55 terrestrial species of snakes in Singapore.
"Given that Bukit Timah hosts Singapore's oldest and largest patch of primeval forest, there is the potential to discover more surprising records and even potentially new species in the area," he said.