Sunbeam snakes belong to a single genus (Xenopeltis) and family Xenopeltidae, the species of which are found in Southeast Asia. There are two species of sunbeam snake in the world. Of the two species, Xenopeltis Unicolor and Xenopeltis Hainanensis (Hainan sunbeam snake), the former is more widespread. The latter has a limited presence and is found in Southeastern China and Vietnam.
Sunbeam snakes are known for their glossy, smooth, and iridescent scales. The color of Xenopeltis is purplish-black or chocolate-brown above and white below. Sunbeam snakes have a cylindrical body, a small head with a slight depression. An adult sunbeam can grow up to 51 in (1.3 m) in length. The belly of these snakes is unpatterned and whitish-gray in color.
Sunbeam snakes are known to be fossorial, which is, they spend most of their time hidden under the surface of the soil. They come out of their hidden during dusk to actively forage for their prey like lizards, frogs, small mammals, and other snakes. These snakes are not venomous and they use constriction to kill their prey. Since they are venomous they are harmless to humans. If they feel threatened or they get irritated they vigorously vibrate their tails which is a common characteristic of snakes. Sunbeam snakes lay up to 17 eggs and there is a white collar around the neck of the hatchlings.
A sunbeam snake is a snake of the family Xenopeltidae.
What class of animal does a sunbeam snake belong to?
Sunbeam snakes belong to the Reptilia class.
How many sunbeam snakes are there in the world?
An exact figure is not available.
Where does a sunbeam snake live?
Sunbeam snakes can be found in grass plains and farms.
What is a sunbeam snake's habitat?
Sunbeam snakes are semi-fossorial. As its natural habitat, sunbeam snakes prefer soil. It means they spend much of their day underground. They prefer moist soil and burrows made either by themselves or by rodents. In addition to this, they can also be found under decaying vegetation, large stones, rocks, or logs. Juvenile sunbeam snakes can be found within layers of the bark of trees too.
Who do sunbeam snakes live with?
Sunbeam snakes are solitary creatures.
How long does a sunbeam snake live?
The average lifespan of a sunbeam snake is around 10 years.
How do they reproduce?
Sunbeam snakes lay eggs to produce their young. This type of reproduction is called oviparous.
What is their conservation status?
Sunbeam snakes have never been listed as endangered or threatened. Their conservation status is of Least Concern according to the IUCN.
Sunbeam Snake Fun Facts
What do sunbeam snakes look like?
Adult sunbeam snakes have slightly flattened bodies. Sunbeam snakes are somewhat similar to pipe snakes. The dorsal, or the back side of the body, is dark, purplish-brown. The ventral side or the front side is light yellow or white. Some sunbeam snakes have a yellow shade that extends into their labial upper scales.
The juvenile sunbeam snakes have a distinct light-colored ring around the rear of the anterior neck and the head. The head of the sunbeam snake is distinctly wedge-shaped and a bit flattened. The scales on the sunbeam snake are paired and subcaudal. The length of the tail is about a tenth of the size of the body itself.
The scales on the body of a Xenopeltis unicolor are large. They are typically arranged in 15 rows throughout the length of the trunk. The number of head plates is low on these snakes. There are also fewer head plates than a normal snake. The eyes of a sunbeam snake are also quite small.
The scales on the sunbeam snake are iridescent. It means the luminous colors change depending on the direction from which they are seen.
How cute are they?
Sunbeam snakes are not aggressive and non-venomous. Their face is adorable and they are referred to as the jumping spiders of the snake community. Although irrational fear of snakes is prevalent in our society sunbeam snakes make their case for being extremely adorable and not at all dangerous to humans. That is the reason Xenopeltis unicolor are being increasingly kept as house pets and victims of the pet trade. Sunbeam snake care is also easy. Sunbeam snake care requires only that you spend a little time building a good enclosure. These iridescent earth snakes are shy creatures but look absolutely divine especially in sunlight. Their iridescent scales shine in the sunlight and are a sight to behold.
How do they communicate?
Precious little is known about the social interactions of a sunbeam snake species. In the wild, they are very difficult to spot because they spend most of the day burrowed inside the earth or under logs and rocks. As pets, they rarely make any noise at all. But when under threat sunbeam snakes will mimic the actions of a rattlesnake by shaking their tail rapidly. However, they do not have rattlers like a rattlesnake. So the shaking tail makes no noise. Only the action of shaking deter the predators. If a predator gets too close to a sunbeam snake they do release a very foul-smelling ooze from their vent area.
If a predator were to touch a sunbeam snake it will immediately stiffen its body and start jerking violently. This action is just to free itself from the grip and doesn’t really cause any harm to the predator.
How big is a sunbeam snake?
On average, sunbeam snakes can grow up to 4 ft (1.21 m) in size. Even though they are closely related to the true python species this size is only a fifth of the size of a fully grown reticulated python. Reticulated pythons can be as long as 22 ft (6.7 m).
How fast can a sunbeam snake move?
Sunbeam snakes are small and nimble and extremely agile. These iridescent earth snakes can slide across grass surfaces at astonishing speeds. Even though they are related to the pythons, they are much faster than them.
How much does a sunbeam snake weigh?
In captivity, the sunbeam snake can weigh up to 2.2 lb (1 kg) or a little more than that. Precious little is known about this magnificent snake in the wild because of its elusive nature. A post mortem of a dead wild snake showed the weight as around 2.42 lb (1.1 kg). But the weight depends on how the snakes in the captivity have been able to adapt to their new environment.
What are the male and female names of the species?
There are no specific names for the genders of this snake. The two genders are just referred to as male and female sunbeam snakes.
What would you call a baby sunbeam snake?
A young sunbeam snake is called a Juvenile. Juvenile Sunbeam snakes are distinguishable by a white or yellow band across their head in the form of a ring.
What do they eat?
Wild Sunbeam snakes eat lizards, frogs, mice, and other small snakes. But lizards seem to be a particular favorite among these snakes. In captivity, sunbeam snakes are mostly fed mice. They can survive on mice alone. Sunbeam snakes in captivity initially prefer live mice. But it has been seen that over time they can get accustomed to frozen mice as well. Feeding sunbeam snakes is pretty easy.
Sunbeam snakes kill their prey by constriction. It means they coil around their prey until the prey chokes to death. Constrictors like boas and pythons have very flexible jaws which help them in swallowing large prey. Some reticulated pythons have been known to swallow antelopes. But unlike these larger constrictors, sunbeam snakes don’t have huge flexible jaws. So they cannot swallow larger prey whole.
Sunbeam snakes in captivity should be fed multiple smaller mice instead of a single big one. Juvenile sunbeam snakes can eat around two or three mice every week. They need this increased food intake during their growth years. But adult sunbeam snakes can eat a couple of hopper mice every other week.
Are they poisonous?
Sunbeam snakes are not poisonous. They do not pose any danger to humans or any large animal for that matter.
Would they make a good pet?
The sunbeam snake is drop-dead gorgeous but they don’t prefer to be out in the open. They like to snuggle in damp and moist places under the surface or objects where humidity is high. Sunbeam snakes are extremely laid back and rarely bite. They also are not always looking to escape their enclosure.
Sunbeam snakes don’t mind being handled by humans as long as the touch is not threatening and occasional. Sunbeam snakes like many other snakes don’t like to be touched very often. Constant touch causes stress in these magnificent snakes and can lead to health issues.
It is better to not handle sunbeam snake pets more than once or twice a week. Even during the actual handling, it is better to observe their behavior. If they seem stressed best to leave them to be on their own. Also, sometimes sunbeam snakes will try to wriggle out of the hands when touched. It is best to respect their wishes and set them down gently.
Did you know...
Sunbeam snakes are nocturnal. During the day when the sun is out, they are very rarely seen on the surface. They spend the day burrowing and resting under decaying vegetation, ditches, and marshes. Sunbeam snakes thrive in wet rice paddies and places of high humidity since they are moist and the loose soil is soft for burrowing. That is why in the geographic range of Southeast Asia, a lot of sunbeam snakes can be found in paddy fields. They do come out in the open during the day on very cloudy and rainy days when the humidity is up.
Sunbeam snakes are most famous for their iridescent colors. When observed under the light they have a rainbow-colored sheen. On the scales, they have microscopic nanostructures called iridophores. These iridophores refract light from one scale to the other causing them to glow with brightness. This shine is further accentuated by the darker pigmentation of the skin under the scales. The scales on a sunbeam snake are situated very close to each other for two reasons. One of them being this refractive ability. The other is to help them with the burrowing.
Burrowing is an important part of a sunbeam snake’s life. A unique feature of its burrowing nature is that the snake moves its head from side to side rather than up and down. It basically clears a path with its head by moving it from side to side. The shape of the snakes is also designed to facilitate this type of burrowing.
Sunbeam snakes rapidly consume their prey. Among constrictors, this snake has one of the fastest speeds of food consumption. This is because their upper jaws have very little mobility. Most snakes do not have teeth in the front side of their upper jaw. But sunbeam snakes do. This lets them hold on to food better. The rest of the snake’s teeth are also hinged at the base of the mouth rather than on the jaw bone like most other snakes.
Sunbeam snakes are one of the oldest living reptiles on earth. They fall under what scientists call “relicts”. These snakes used to be found in more areas in larger numbers until a few thousand years ago. Relicts have special skeletal structures that are not seen in the other more recent specimens of their species. Some of these features like the shape of the sunbeam snake’s mouth and jaw structure have only ever been seen on fossils of extinct animals.
Keeping sunbeam snakes
Now coming to keeping sunbeam snakes as pets, there are some considerations to take while keeping them as pets. The average sunbeam snake price is $80. An adult sunbeam snake will be comfortable in a 40-gallon terrarium. The enclosure can be a front opening or top opening. Sunbeam snakes generally do not try to escape. One of the most important things to consider is the substrate to be added inside. Sunbeam snakes like to burrow. The damper the dirt the easier it is for them to burrow. Some common substrates that can be used is finely ground coir from coconuts mixed with some peat moss to create a naturally occurring dirt substrate. Coconut coir and peat moss are also easily available.
Sunbeam snake care has a lot to do with the enclosure. The enclosure should not be completely damp throughout. It is better to keep the enclosure slightly tilted so that gravity can help in moving the water along the gradient and the humidity is maintained. The lower side of the enclosure will be moister and a little muddy. The top-end would also be moist but not as much and not as much humidity.
It is enough if the substrate is about 4 in thick. Controlling the temperature and humidity is very important while creating a sunbeam snake enclosure. Attaching a heating pad under the enclosure preferably at the end which is the lower gradient is a good idea. The ideal temperature setting would be 80 degrees Fahrenheit at lowered end of the enclosure and about 70 degrees Fahrenheit at the drier, raised end. The ideal humidity setting for the enclosure should be around 75%. Humidity is a very important factor to consider for pet sunbeam snakes.
In order to mimic the natural hiding places that the sunbeam snake prefers, objects can be placed on the substrate. Small twigs and logs or cork flats can be used here. Sunbeam snakes are not great climbers. So, apart from aesthetics branches do not contribute to the snake’s activity. Water is very important for maintaining the health of the snake and the humidity of the enclosure. A large bowl of water, big enough to immerse the snake is required. Sunbeam snakes like to soak in the water during hotter days. The water in the water bowl must be changed daily.
Sunbeam snakes are not present naturally in the United States. A significant problem with sunbeam snakes is that they don’t breed well in captivity. So, all sunbeam snakes in the US are imported, mostly from Southern China through the pet trade.
Sunbeam snakes during transportation undergo a lot of stress due to the uncontrolled environment during travel and storage. They can suffer from blisters and worms. De-worming and topical antibiotic cream should be administered before they are taken up as pets. A healthy Sunbeam snake will feed normally and that is a sign that the snake has recovered.
Sunbeam snakes are seasonally imported. Mostly, there is either a lot of these snakes on sale or none at all. Any specialty reptile store will have them at the right season. These snakes are also available online and at some reptile shows.
What type of snake is a sunbeam snake?
In the wild, there are only two variants of sunbeam snakes. The more common of the two is the Xenopeltis unicolor and is found throughout Indonesia and most parts of Southeast Asia. The other variant Xenopeltis hainanensis is native only to Vietnam and Southern China.
DNA analysis of the sunbeam snakes has revealed that the Mexican burrowing python is their most close relative. They also share significant DNA material with the true pythons of the Pythonidae family.
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