Pipe Snake

Last updated: April 15, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© reptiles4all/Shutterstock.com

Some of these snakes flatten their neck and raise their heads to imitate cobras if they’re threatened.


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Pipe Snake Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Reptilia
Order
Squamata

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Pipe Snake Conservation Status


Pipe Snake Facts

Prey
Small vertebrates
Main Prey
Frogs, lizards, snakes, birds
Name Of Young
Neonates
Group Behavior
  • Solitary except during mating season
Fun Fact
Some of these snakes flatten their neck and raise their heads to imitate cobras if they’re threatened.
Estimated Population Size
Unknown
Biggest Threat
Foxes, cats, birds of prey
Most Distinctive Feature
Cylindrical bodies with bright colors
Gestation Period
4-6 months, depending on species

Pipe Snake Physical Characteristics

Skin Type
Scales
Venomous
No
Aggression
Low

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Pipe Snakes are ancient and primitive.

Lizards appeared on earth well before snakes, and some snake families are so old that they retain the pelvic girdles and even something of the hind limbs of their lizard ancestors, even though these are vestigial. They also may have lizard-like heads, though they no longer have ears or eyelids. This is true of the pipe snakes. These are smallish, burrowing snakes that can be found in the forests of South America and Southeast Asian countries such as Borneo and Sumatra.

Pipe snakes often mimic cobras when threatened.

Four Amazing Facts

Here are four amazing facts about the pipe snake.

  • Snakes in the Cylindrophiidae family can’t open their mouths very wide, so they eat animals as long and slender as they are, such as caecilians and other snakes.
  • Some of these snakes flatten their neck and raise their heads to imitate cobras if they’re threatened. Others raise their tails instead of their necks.
  • Uropeltidae snakes also startle attackers by rolling over and flashing their brilliantly colored abdomens. The red and yellow colors are not only startling but mimic the colors of dangerous snakes.
  • The Anomochilus snakes were once classified as Anomolochilus until the naturalist Carlos Berg noticed the name was already taken by a genus of beetles.
The white and black chekered pattern of a red-tailed pipe snake

Pipe snakes often flash their brilliantly colored abdomens to startle enemies.

©KritsadaPetchuay/Shutterstock.com

Habitat: Where To Find Them

Anilius pipe snakes are found in Trinidad and Tobago and South America, especially in the Amazon rainforest. Anomochilus snakes are found in Sumatra, Malaysia, and Borneo, while Cylindrophiidae snakes are also found in Borneo and Sumatra, as well as Sri Lanka, south India, southern China, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Laos. Uropeltidae is found in India. Pipe snakes live in forest habitats, and most are fossorial, or animals that like to dig into the ground.

colombia amazon river

The Amazon River is both long and remote in areas

©iStock.com/gustavofrazao

Scientific Name

The scientific names of pipe snake genera are Anomochilus, Uropeltidae,
Anilius and Cylindrophis. Anomochilus, Anilius, and Cylindrophis are the only genera in their respective families. Cylindrophis means “cylinder-shaped serpent” in Greek, while Uropeltidae is Greek for “shield tail” and refers to the shield at the end of this burrowing snake’s tail.

There are three species of Anomochilus. They are:

  1. A. leonardi
  2. A. weberi
  3. A. monticola

There are no subspecies.

There are only one species in Anilius, A. scytale. It has two subspecies:

  1. A. s. phelpsorum
  2. A. s. scytale

There are 14 species in Cylindrophis. They are:

  1. C. aruensis
  2. C. boulengeri
  3. C. burmanus
  4. C. engkariensis
  5. C. isolepis
  6. C. jodiae
  7. C. lineatus
  8. C. maculatus
  9. C. melanotus 
  10. C. opisthorhodus
  11. C. osheai
  12. C. ruffus
  13. C. subocularis
  14. C. yamdena

There are seven genera in Uropeltidae, and 60 species. Genera are:
Melanophidium
Platyplectrurus
Pseudoplectrurus
Plectrurus
Rhinophis
Teretrurus
Uropeltis

Appearance and Description

A coral cylinder snake on a black background

Pipe snakes, like this coral cylinder snake, have small mouths, so they can only eat small prey

©reptiles4all/Shutterstock.com

First, these snakes have bodies that are cylinder-shaped, which gives them the look of pipes. They are not large, and few grow to a length very much past three feet. They do come in a variety of colors and patterns, with the most spectacular being Anilius scytale, a brilliantly red snake with black bands down the length of its body.

Types of Pipe Snakes

Some types of pipe snakes include dwarf pipe snakes or anomochilids. These snakes are fossorial and grow up to 20 inches in length. The dwarf pipe snake has tiny eyes and lacks a tracheal lung but still has something of a vestigial pelvic girdle. If you turn the snake over, the pelvis is indicated by tiny spurs around the cloaca.

The cylinder-shaped Cylindrophis snakes also found in Asia, are also fossorial. The head is blunt and can be hard to tell from the tail, which is short. These snakes also have a pelvic girdle which manifests as spurs. They have smooth scales along their back, but the ventral scales are small. When it’s threatened, the snake coils up, tucks its head in the coils, and raises its tail to flash the colors of the ventral scales. It can’t open its mouth wide and has to rotate its skull and its jaws to swallow its prey. Eating can take as long as half an hour.

The red-tailed pipe snake is the genus’ type species and can grow as long as 39 inches. It has a dark ground color with red bands.

Uropeltidae is noted for the shields at the end of their tails, which gives them their generic name. They are found in Sri Lanka and India, and like the other pipe snakes, they are fossorial and have a cylindrical shape. Unlike the other snakes, they’ve lost their pelvic girdle, and their eyes are tiny. They react to threats much like the Cylindrophis snakes, and their diet is largely made up of earthworms found in the earth they burrow through.

A red-tailed pipe snake on a white background

Red-tailed pipe snakes can reach 39 inches in length

©Lauren Suryanata/Shutterstock.com

How Dangerous Are They?

All genera of pipe snakes are nonvenomous.

Behavior and Humans

These snakes rarely have interactions with humans because they often burrow beneath the ground. Preferring habitats with rich, loose soil, they create tunnels that are wide enough for them to turn around in. This allows them to move backward and forward with ease. A heavy rainstorm may wash them up and sometimes subject them to being roadkill. Many of these snakes have not been extensively studied, and the conservation status of some is unknown. The status of Cuvier’s shield-tail, for example, is data deficient, though the conservation status for the red-tailed pipe snake is least concern as is the status of the coral cylinder snake. Their diet is made up mostly of slender animals like themselves since they can’t open their mouths widely. They are constrictors and sometimes squeeze their prey into unconsciousness or death before swallowing it whole.

Diet

Red-tailed pipe snake

The red-tailed pipe snake has a dark ground color with red bands

©Kristian Bell/Shutterstock.com

Pipe snakes (Aniliidae) are carnivores and feed primarily on small vertebrates such as frogs, lizards, snakes, and occasionally birds. They hunt by ambushing their prey in tight spaces like hollow logs or crevices. Pipe snakes have several adaptations that help them to better capture prey. They have long slender bodies, which allows them to easily navigate narrow areas while searching for food, and they also possess sharp curved teeth that enable them to hold onto struggling victims. To supplement their diet, pipe snakes may sometimes eat carrion or eggs of other animals, such as birds and reptiles.

Predators and Threats

The pipe snake is preyed upon by a variety of predators, including birds of prey, cats, foxes, and other snakes. They may also be eaten by larger amphibians, such as bullfrogs or toads. The eggs of the pipe snake are vulnerable to predation from other snakes or invertebrates, such as ants and termites. In addition to predators, pipe snakes can also face competition for resources with other animals in their habitat, particularly during periods when food is scarce. They may come into conflict with humans due to habitat destruction caused by deforestation activities or agricultural development, which reduces available space for them to live safely in the wild.

Reproduction and Lifespan

A red-tailed pipe raising its tail to mimic a cobra

Pipe snakes are known for raising their heads — or their tails — to mimic a cobra.

©aDam Wildlife/Shutterstock.com

These snakes are also ovoviviparous, which means the mother snake gives birth to live babies instead of laying eggs. She’ll carry the babies internally, all separated by membranes, until they’re ready for the world.

In at least one species, the baby snakes are surprisingly long at birth. They can be half the length of the mother. Perhaps because of this pipe snakes do not give birth to many young at once. The usual number seems to be between two and five. Scientists do not know the lifespan of these snakes, but if their lifespan is like other snakes, they live around ten years.

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About the Author

Sarah is an Editor for A-Z Animals who has a deep passion for animals and wildlife. Betty White is a hero of hers and she recently worked on a project about the legacy of the incredible charitable contributions she made to animals, advocacy and health of the planet. A resident of California, Sarah loves to laugh and hike in nature.

Pipe Snake FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are pipe snakes poisonous?

Though there are many kinds of pipe snakes, none are poisonous.

How many types of pipe snakes are there?

There are at least 76 types of pipe snake that belong to four families.

How long is a pipe snake?

Pipe snakes are not large snakes and do not grow longer than 39 inches.

What color are pipe snakes?

Pipe snakes come in a variety of colors. Anilius scytale is a bright red with black stripes. The Kerala burrowing snake has golden scales with violet edges and dark violet bands, while the purple red earth snake is purple-red on top and bright red spotted with black on the bottom.

Where do pipe snakes live?

These snakes are found in South America, Trinidad and Tobago and southeast Asia. The preferred habitat appears to be forests, rice paddies and places near a source of fresh water.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources

  1. Wikipedia / Accessed April 25, 2022
  2. IUCN Red List / Accessed April 25, 2022
  3. Britannica / Accessed April 25, 2022
  4. Encylopedia.com / Accessed April 25, 2022

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