Tentacled Snake

Erpeton tentaculatum

Last updated: June 13, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Keung/Shutterstock.com

Their tentacles have nerves that attach directly into the area of the brain that processes visual information.


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Tentacled Snake Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Reptilia
Order
Squamata
Family
Colubridae
Genus
Erpeton
Scientific Name
Erpeton tentaculatum

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Tentacled Snake Conservation Status

Tentacled Snake Locations

Tentacled Snake Locations

Tentacled Snake Facts

Prey
Fish, frogs, crabs
Main Prey
Fish
Name Of Young
Neonates
Group Behavior
  • Solitary
  • Group
Fun Fact
Their tentacles have nerves that attach directly into the area of the brain that processes visual information.
Biggest Threat
Habitat destruction and poaching
Most Distinctive Feature
Tentacles on its head
Litter Size
1-5
Lifestyle
  • Diurnal
Favorite Food
Fish
Common Name
Tentacled snake
Number Of Species
1
Location
Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand

Tentacled Snake Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Grey
  • Tan
Skin Type
Scales
Lifespan
10-20 years
Weight
.31-.44 pounds
Length
20-35 inches
Venomous
Yes
Aggression
Low

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Tentacled snakes are unique aquatic snakes that live in Peninsular Southeast Asia in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand.

©

These small snakes are fish eaters that only rarely eat other creatures like frogs or softshell crabs. They may only come out of the water to burrow in the mud if the water they live in dries up too much.

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Incredible Tentacled Snake Facts

Tentacled snake coming to the surface for air

Tentacled snakes spend their entire lives in water and only come to the surface to breathe.

©Keung/Shutterstock.com

  • The only snake to have tentacles coming out of the front of its head.
  • It’s fully aquatic and spends its entire life in the water, and babies are born in the water.
  • They move so little that algae grow on their scales. 90% of their time is spent not moving a muscle.
  • Tentacled snakes can predict where their prey is going to be, and no one knows how.

Scientific Name and Classification

This snake is of the monotypic genus Erpeton in the Colubridae subfamily Homalopsidae. Their subfamily has about 50 species of Indo-Australian water snakes. Its scientific name is Erpeton tentaculatum, and specific name means tentacles.



Its common name of tentacled snake is appropriate and describes the unusual appendages on its head.

Appearance

A captive tentacled snake displaying the two tentacles on its head

Tentacled water snakes are the only snakes with tentacles on their heads.

©Keung/Shutterstock.com

This small, completely aquatic snake is extremely flat with keeled scales. It typically measures 20-35 inches and has two phases: Striped or blotched. The base color can be dark gray, brown, or light tan. Like other snakes, they shed, but not many people seem to have witnessed it. It’s possible that the algae they grow on their scales are part of a symbiotic relationship, but that’s unclear.

The tentacled snake is appropriately named; two scaly appendages extend from the front of its head. It’s the only snake to have something like this. Not much is known for certain about the tentacles or their purpose. However, it’s likely that they have some use as a lure for prey, a camouflage tool, or helpful in locating prey. The tentacles have nerves that connect to the brain, where it receives and processes optic signals. So it is possible that they function as an extra sense to understand their environment. Additionally, its nostrils are placed on top of its head with valves that allow it to close the nostrils.

This species is mildly venomous and not considered dangerous to people. Its fangs are small and set very far back in its mouth and are only partially grooved. The venom is only dangerous to the fish it eats.

Behavior

Weirdest Snakes - Tentacled Snake

About 90% of the time, tentacled snakes don’t move a muscle, so they’re covered with algae.

©/Shutterstock.com

Most of what we know about tentacled snakes’ behavior and life cycle comes from captive-bred individuals in zoos and private collections. There just isn’t much field research on them. These snakes spend their lives in water and can stay underwater for up to 30 minutes, pretending to be a stick.

Tentacled snakes have a unique hunting strategy. Technically, they’re ambush predators, but they manipulate the water around them to get prey to come to them. These snakes hang upside down in the water in a “J” shape, using their prehensile tails to hold their bodies steady. They herd prey by bumping out part of their body, which causes a wave and startles the fish. Their bump wave often makes it turn towards the snakes’ mouths.

The subject of scientific study, these snakes seem particularly skilled at predicting where the fish’s head will be and strike at that location instead of where it currently is. When they prepare to strike, they retract their eyes to protect themselves.

When threatened, tentacled snakes extend their bodies and do their best imitation of a stick. They even continue the act if you pick them up out of the water. It’s not quite as dramatic as the hognose’s display, but it’s still impressive.

This species is diurnal and sometimes burrows into the mud to rest at night. They also burrow during the dry season, but they’re awkward and slow on the land, so don’t spend much time there.

Habitat and Diet

A tentacled water snake sneaking up on a fish

In zoos and aquariums, keepers generally feed goldfish to these snakes.

©Keung/Shutterstock.com

A tentacled snake lives its entire life in murky water like ponds, rice paddies, and slow-moving streams. It can live in fresh, brackish, or seawater and is endemic to Peninsular Southeast Asia in Thailand, Cambodia, and southern Vietnam.

A great example of where it likes to live is Tonle Sap lake in Central Cambodia. It has a lot of vegetation that sits at and below the water line, where it can do its stick impression.

This species almost exclusively eats fish; however, they’ve also been seen eating frogs and crabs. Young snakes eat only fish until they’re a little bigger. In zoos and collections, they’re typically fed goldfish.

Predators, Threats, Conservation, and Population

Rare Tentacled Snake (Erpeton tentaculatum) from Thailand swamp

Tentacled Snakes are preyed upon by other predators and captured for the pet trade illegally.

©Davidsfeed/Shutterstock.com

According to the IUCN, the tentacled snake is common throughout its range and listed as a species of Least Concern. Although it’s harvested for food, those numbers are small and not likely to impact the global population. Their overall population isn’t known for certain, but they do seem to have a healthy population.

That’s not to say that it doesn’t have threats. Aquaculture in its native range is reducing its preferred habitat of murky water. It’s also preyed upon by other predators and captured for the pet trade illegally. However, there are some fungal diseases that affect reptiles that could become an even bigger problem than poaching and aquaculture.

Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

This species is reported to live about 10-20 years. They can make interesting pets, although they’re more of a display animal and require very specific living arrangements. Because they’re fully aquatic, it’s actually dangerous for them to be out of the water, so handling really needs to be limited.

They give birth to live babies, but scientists don’t know much about their mating habits in the wild, but they give birth to live babies. In keeping with this snake’s underwater lifestyle, their babies are born underwater. After several months of gestation, the females give birth to 1-5 live babies.

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About the Author

Gail Baker Nelson is a writer at A-Z Animals where she focuses on reptiles and dogs. Gail has been writing for over a decade and uses her experience training her dogs and keeping toads, lizards, and snakes in her work. A resident of Texas, Gail loves working with her three dogs and caring for her cat, and pet ball python.

Tentacled Snake FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Do tentacled snakes breathe under water?

No, they are reptiles with a lung that they need to fill with air. However, they only have to breed every 30 minutes or so.

Where do tentacled snakes live?

In the stagnant, murky waters of Peninsular Southeast Asia in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand.

What do tentacled snakes eat?

Fish. These snakes are almost exclusively fish eaters. Sometimes they’ll frogs or crabs.

How do tentacled snakes hunt?

These unique snakes are ambush predators that hang upside down by their tails underwater. They bump at the fish to startle them into changing directions, and often that direction change leads the fish right to the snake’s mouth.

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

Sources
  1. Murphy, J., Brooks, S.E. & Bain, R.H. 2010. Erpeton tentaculatum. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2010: e.T176697A7285596. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2010-4.RLTS.T176697A7285596.en. , Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/176697/7285596
  2. Tentacled snake | Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute, Available here: https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/tentacled-snake
  3. Erpeton tentaculatum | Reptarium Reptile Database, Available here: https://reptile-database.reptarium.cz/species?genus=Erpeton&species=tentaculatum

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