Dragon Snake (Javan Tubercle Snake, Javan Mudsnake)

Xenodermus javanicus

Last updated: May 27, 2024
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Tanto Yensen/Shutterstock.com

Sport three rows of raised dorsal scales


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Dragon Snake (Javan Tubercle Snake, Javan Mudsnake) Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Reptilia
Order
Squamata
Family
Xenodermidae
Genus
Xenodermus
Scientific Name
Xenodermus javanicus

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Dragon Snake (Javan Tubercle Snake, Javan Mudsnake) Conservation Status

Dragon Snake (Javan Tubercle Snake, Javan Mudsnake) Locations

Dragon Snake (Javan Tubercle Snake, Javan Mudsnake) Locations

Dragon Snake (Javan Tubercle Snake, Javan Mudsnake) Facts

Prey
Frogs, tadpoles, small fish
Main Prey
Frogs
Group Behavior
  • Solitary
Fun Fact
Sport three rows of raised dorsal scales
Biggest Threat
Pollution
Most Distinctive Feature
Raised scales
Distinctive Feature
Large eyes and nostrils
Other Name(s)
Javan mudsnake, Javan tubercle snake, rough-backed litter snake
Habitat
Wetlands, marshes, swamps, forests
Diet
Carnivore
Lifestyle
  • Nocturnal
Favorite Food
Frogs
Common Name
Dragon snake
Number Of Species
1
Location
Southeast Asia (Java)
Average Clutch Size
-1

Dragon Snake (Javan Tubercle Snake, Javan Mudsnake) Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Grey
  • Red
  • White
Skin Type
Scales
Lifespan
Up to 10 years
Length
Up to 3 feet
Venomous
No
Aggression
Low

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The dragon snake (Xenodermus javanicus) is a semi-fossorial snake in the family Xenodermidae. This small snake is native to Southeast Asia and is most common on the Island of Java. Dragon snakes feature raised dorsal scales that resemble the spikes commonly depicted on mythical dragons, hence their name. When stressed, they exhibit a unique defense mechanism wherein they freeze, and their whole body stiffens.  

Dragon Snake Amazing Facts

  • Dragon snakes get their name from the characteristic dorsal scales that resemble the spikes depicted in images of dragons.  
  • Female dragon snakes measure larger than males, although males possess thicker and longer tails. 
  • Dragon snakes go stiff when threatened and will refuse to eat when stressed. 
  • Most female dragon snakes reproduce only once a year or less often, during which time they lay a clutch containing between 2 and 4 eggs. 
  • In the wild, dragon snakes are opportunistic hunters that feed mostly on small fish, frogs, and tadpoles.

Where To Find Dragon Snakes

Dragon snakes are native to Southeast Asia. You can find them scattered throughout the Malay Peninsula, including Thailand, Malaysia, and parts of Myanmar. However, most dragon snakes live on the islands of Sumatra, Borneo, and – especially – Java. The populations on Java also go by the name Javan tubercle snake or Javan mudsnake. 

Dragon snakes prefer to live in close proximity to water. Common habitats for dragon snakes include swamps, wetlands, marshes, rice paddies, and wet forests. You can find them at elevations up to 4,300 feet above sea level. That said, most specimens live at elevations between 1,600 and 3,600 feet above sea level. During the day, dragon snakes hide in muddy burrows or subterranean tunnels. 

Dragon Snake Scientific Name

The dragon snake currently belongs to the family Xenodermidae. The family name derives from the Greek words xeno, meaning “strange,” and derma, meaning” skin,” and the Latin suffix –idae, meaning “resembling” or “form of.” Roughly translated, the family name means “strange skinned. Unlike most snakes, species in the family Xenodermidae do not have overlapping scales. Instead, the scales are individually spread-out. 

The dragon snake is the sole member of the genus Xenodermus. Its specific name, javanicus, means “of Java” and refers to its geographic distribution. Meanwhile, its common name stems from its most distinguishing feature. Dragon snakes have raised dorsal scales that resemble the spikes sometimes seen in depictions of dragons. It also goes by the name Javan mudsnake, Javan tubercle snake, or rough-backed litter snake. 

Dragon Snake Population & Conservation Status

Due to their nocturnal habits and secretive nature, it’s rare to encounter a dragon snake in the wild. Evidence suggests that dragon snakes rarely occur in the northern part of their range. That said, they are a common sight on the Island of Java. Additionally, dragon snakes face no significant threats currently, although agricultural pollutants and chemicals may pose a threat to some populations. As a result, the IUCN lists the dragon snake as a species of Least Concern. On the other hand, dragon snakes remain extremely rare in captivity. Very few dragon snakes survive in captivity, which makes them an uncommon sight in herpetoculture. Their popularity may increase as more information emerges concerning how to best care for dragon snakes. 

How To Identify Dragon Snakes: Appearance and Description

Dragon snakes possess long, slender bodies and rounded, oblong-shaped heads. They have large nostrils and large black eyes, especially when compared in relation to the rest of the head. On average, most dragon snakes measure around 2 feet long. However, they can measure up to 3 feet long, with females typically measuring larger than males. You can differentiate males from females due to their longer, thicker tails and noticeable hemipenial bulges. Meanwhile, females have shorter, thinner tails and no hemipenial bulge. 

By far, the number one defining feature of dragon snakes is their characteristic dorsal scales. Dragon snakes sport three rows of raised scales down the full length of their bodies. The dorsal scales usually appear dark gray but can look reddish-brown in a certain light, while the belly scales appear white. 

Dragon snake / Xenodermus javanicus

Dragon snakes have large nostrils and big, round eyes.

Dragon Snake Evolution and History

The dragon snake currently belongs to the colubrid snake clade Colubroides. According to fossil records, the first colubrid snakes emerged sometime during the Oligocene Epoch between 33.9 and 23 million years ago. However, the exact taxonomic position and evolution of dragon snakes remain unknown.  Some experts argue that dragon snakes are a sister group of Colubroidea. Meanwhile, others believe that dragon snakes share more in common with the file snake family Acrochordidae. This alternative theory posits that dragon snakes and related snakes in the family Xenodermidae should form their own taxon with file snakes. More research and debate are needed to discern the dragon snake’s appropriate place in evolutionary history. 

Dragon Snake Pictures

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Dragon Snake Venom: How Dangerous Are They?

Despite their ancient appearance, dragon snakes do not pose a threat to humans. In fact, they are non-venomous, and their bite can not hurt humans. Not only that, but you’re also very unlikely ever to get bitten by a dragon snake. Dragon snakes do not respond well to stress. Instead of responding with aggression when threatened, most dragon snakes simply stiffen and stop moving. Still, you should not attempt to pick up a wild dragon snake, as you could damage the snake accidentally. 

Dragon Snake Behavior and Humans

Dragon snakes are notoriously difficult to keep in captivity. They get stressed quite easily and, once stressed, often refuse to eat. Also, dragon snakes freeze when they perceive a potential threat, and their bodies go stiff. Presently, there is no substantial market for dragon snakes in the pet trade. As a result, most dragon snakes kept in captivity came from the wild. However, the vast majority of dragon snakes die shortly after entering captivity. They are extremely fragile and do not tolerate heat well. That said, some people have been able to keep dragon snakes in captivity successfully. 

Dragon Snake FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Are dragon snakes omnivores, herbivores, or carnivores?

Like all snakes, dragon snakes are carnivores that eat exclusively animal flesh. Their diet consists mainly of frogs, tadpoles, and small fish. 

Can you own a pet dragon snake?

Yes, you can keep a dragon snake as a pet. However, they are not an established pet breed, and as such, almost all dragon snakes kept in captivity once lived in the wild. Only seasoned owners with experience caring for wild-caught reptiles should even consider keeping a dragon snake. 

How long do dragon snakes live?

In the wild, most dragon snakes likely only live a few years. In captivity – and with the right care – they can live up to 10 years. 

How often do dragon snakes breed?

Female dragon snakes are not prolific breeders. On average, a typical female will lay a single clutch containing 2 to 4 eggs once a year. 

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Dragon Snake (Javan Tubercle Snake, Javan Mudsnake) FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are dragon snakes omnivores, herbivores, or carnivores?

Like all snakes, dragon snakes are carnivores that eat exclusively animal flesh. Their diet consists mainly of frogs, tadpoles, and small fish. 

Can you own a pet dragon snake?

Yes, you can keep a dragon snake as a pet. However, they are not an established pet breed, and as such, almost all dragon snakes kept in captivity once lived in the wild. Only seasoned owners with experience caring for wild-caught reptiles should even consider keeping a dragon snake. 

How long do dragon snakes live?

In the wild, most dragon snakes likely only live a few years. In captivity – and with the right care – they can live up to 10 years. 

How often do dragon snakes breed?

Female dragon snakes are not prolific breeders. On average, a typical female will lay a single clutch containing 2 to 4 eggs once a year. 

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Sources

  1. / Accessed March 29, 2023