Tentacled Snake

Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Family: Colubridae
Genus and Species: Erpeton tentaculatum
  • A tentacled snake swimming in water with green plants in the background
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Tentacled Snake

The tentacled snake is an aquatic snake easily identified by the pair of short, scaly appendages that extend from the front of its snout.
Physical Description

The tentacled snake's most identifiable characteristic is the pair of scaly appendages that project from its snout.  The snake's head and body are extremely flat. Its coloring is light brown with darker stripes or very dark coloring with lighter brown mottling. The snake's color and pattern can resemble a twig or branch with mottled, water-soaked bark. Its scales are keeled and feel rough like sandpaper. 

Tentacled snakes are helpless on land and almost never leave the water voluntarily. Underwater, they rely on their cryptic coloring for camouflage to avoid predators. If an animal approaches, the tentacled snake extends its body, becoming completely rigid and maintains this position even if removed from the water, which further enhances its ability to resemble a water-soaked branch.

This snake's nostrils are dorsally positioned and valvular—specialized tissue allows them to close. Adjacent to the nostrils are the snake's two short, scaly tentacles. The purpose of these appendages is not certainly known, but it's possible they act as a lure to attract prey, a device for locating prey and/or a tool for camouflage.

The tentacled snake averages a length of 50 centimeters (about 19.6 inches).
Native Habitat
The tentacled snake is found in coastal Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. They inhabit fresh or brackish water, streams, ditches, sloughs and rice paddies, and are typically found in slow-moving or stagnant bodies of water with vegetation at or just below the water line. During the dry season, these snakes have been observed burying themselves in the mud until the rainy season returns.
Tentacled snakes do not vocalize, but their visual and sensory perception appears to be integrated. The highly sensitive tentacles sense the presence of other animals. The nerves that connect the tentacles and the brain input information to the region of the snake's brain that receives optic signals, so these snakes use both their sense of touch and vision to perceive their surroundings.
Food/Eating Habits

The tentacled snake is a diurnal, aquatic snake. This ambush predator lies still among submerged vegetation throughout the day waiting for prey. Its unique hunting strategy involves herding its prey into position, so it's easy to capture. As a potential meal approaches, the snake "bumps" out part of its body creating a bow wave in the direction of the passing prey. The resulting wave causes the fish to change direction, usually heading directly into the jaws of the snake. The initial bump of the snake's body is so quick that it requires high-speed film to observe.

Tentacled snakes feed almost exclusively on fish. They have been observed eating frogs and, in some cases, crabs. This snake is rear-fanged, and various species seem to have specialized venom for their preferred prey.

Reproduction and Development
This species is viviparous, meaning it bears live young. The young snakes feed exclusively on small fish.

The tentacled snake is classified as a species of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List, as of 2010. There are, however, some emerging fungal diseases of reptiles that have been observed in tentacled snakes. Additionally, their wetland habitats are often used for rice farming and other aquaculture, which can put a greater strain on this and other species that rely on those habitats.