- Japan is home to 47 snake species, four of which are dangerous.
- Chugoku, located in Yamaguchi is known for its population of albino rat snakes.
- The most common snake species to be found is the Japanese rat snake which has a similar pattern to the venomous mamuchi snake.
Japan is a beautiful and diverse place filled with some of the most amazing animals! As an island chain separated from continental Asia, Japan’s wildlife has had plenty of time to develop some truly unique traits. When most people think of Japan, however, they don’t really consider the possibility that snakes could live on the islands. Today, we are going to take a look at Japan and learn if there are snakes slithering around the Empire of the Rising Sun. Let’s get started!
Do Snakes Live In Japan?
Yes, snakes live in almost every ecological habitat in Japan. Whether it’s a city park or a rural field, you can be sure that there are slithering serpents somewhere nearby. Overall, there are 47 different snake species, and four of them are seriously dangerous.
There are eight regions of Japan, including Hokkaido, Tohoku, Kanto, Chubu, Kinki, Chugoku, Shikoku, and Kyushu. There is an incredible variety of snakes within these regions, all with their ecological niche. For example, there is an entirely albino population of rat snakes that live in the Chugoku region in the Yamaguchi prefecture.
Let’s learn about some of the most common snakes across the country, plus see a list of the rest.
The Most Common Snakes In Japan
Japanese Rat Snake
Japanese rat snakes are one of the most common snakes in Japan and can be found throughout most of the Japanese archipelago. They are 3-7 feet long and are generally regarded as the largest snake species outside of Okinawa. Japanese rat snakes can be yellow-green or blue-green and have a brown-stripe pattern that mimics the venomous mamushi snake.
These snakes are nonvenomous and totally harmless to humans.
Japanese Striped Snake
Japanese striped snakes (often called four-lined snakes) are another common species of snake native to Japan. They can be found all over Japan except for the Ryukyu Islands. These snakes are generally yellow or light brown and have four stripes running from their head to their tail. A rarer all-black morph exists, and these are referred to as “crow” snakes.
These snakes are nonvenomous and harmless to humans.
The name “jumguri” translates to “the burrower.”
Jimguri snakes (sometimes called burrowing rat snakes) are a common species of snake native to all four main islands of Japan, plus a few smaller islands on the fringes. They are natural burrowers but can be found on the surface during dusk and dawn. Their primary habitat is in the forest, and they are often referred to as Japanese forest snakes. They are reddish-brown and have small black splotches across their bodies ringed in yellow or white.
These snakes are nonvenomous and harmless to humans.
The yamakagashi goes by many names, including the tiger keelback and the kkotbaem. These snakes can be found across much of mainland Japan and the Ryukyu Islands. They are dark brown or olive snakes with orange spots along the first third of their body. Their bellies are usually white or cream.
Yamakagashi are venomous snakes that get their venom from their diets of poisonous frogs. After eating poisonous toads, these snakes store the toxins in special glands near the back of their mouth and use them for defense against predators.
Japanese keelbacks are small snakes that can be found near waterfronts and mountain forests. They are usually light brown or brown and often have yellow patches along the tips of their nose, lips, and neck. Since they are so small (40cm to 65cm), their diets mainly consist of small frogs and earthworms.
The Japanese keelback is nonvenomous and harmless to humans.
The mamushi goes by many names, including the Japanese moccasin, Japanese pit viper, Quichun snake, Salmusa, and Japanese mamushi. These snakes can be found all across Japan, although there is some debate as to whether they are currently found on the Ryukyu Islands. They are pale gray, reddish-brown, or yellow-brown with irregular splotches and evenly spaced banding down their backs. Their heads are generally dark brown with darker eyes and distinct pits, marking them as pit vipers.
Mamushi are the most dangerous snakes in Japan and bite 2,000-4,000 people a year. The recovery time is usually a week of intensive hospital care, but only ten people die a year with proper treatment.
A Complete List Of The Snakes In Japan
- Calamaria pavimentata – Colallared reed snake
- Calamaria pfefferi – Pfeiffer’s reed snake
- Elaphe taeniura – Beauty rat snake
- Elaphe quadrivirgata – Japanese four-lined rat snake
- Elaphe climacophora – Japanese rat snake
- Elaphe carinata – King rat snake
- Euprepiophis conspicillata – Japanese woodsnake
- Lycodon semicarinatus – Ryukyu odd-tooth snake
- Lycodon orientalis – Oriental odd-tooth snake
- Lycodon rufozonatus – Red-banded snake
- Lycodon ruhstrati – Ruhstrat’s wolf snake
- Lycodon multifasciatus
- Ptyas semicarinatus – Ryukyu green snake
- Ptyas herminae – Sakishima green snake
- Rhabdophis tigrinus – Tiger keelback
- Emydocephalus ijimae – Ijima’s sea snake
- Hydrophis cyanocinctus – Annulated sea snake
- Hydrophis melanocephalus – Black-headed sea snake
- Hydrophis ornatus – Ornate reef sea snake
- Hydrophis curtus – Short sea snake
- Hydrophis stokesii – Stokes’s sea snake
- Hydrophis viperinus – Viperine sea snake
- Hydrophis platurus – Yellow-bellied sea snake
- Laticauda laticaudata – Blue-banded sea krait
- Laticauda semifasciata – Black-banded sea krait
- Laticauda colubrina – Colubrine sea krait
- Sinomicrurus japonicus – Japanese coral snake
- Sinomicrurus macclellandi – MacClelland’s coral snake
- Hebius vibakari – Hebius vibakari
- Hebius pryeri – Pryer’s keelback
- Hebius ishigakiense – Yaeyama keelback
- Hebius concelarum – Miyako keelback
- Opisthotropis kikuzatoi – Kikuzato’s brook snake
- Pareas iwasakii – Iwasaki’s snail-eater
- Indotyphlops braminus – Brahminy blind snake
- Gloydius blomhoffii – Mamushi
- Gloydius tsushimaensis – Tsushima Island pitviper
- Ovophis okinavensis – Ryukyu island pitviper
- Protobothrops elegans – Sakishima habu
- Protobothrops flavoviridis – Habu
- Protobothrops mucrosquamatus – Pointed-scaled pitviper
- Protobothrops tokarensis – Tokara habu
- Achalinus werneri – Amami odd-scaled snake
- Achalinus formosanus – Formosan odd-scaled snake
- Achalinus spinalis – Japanese odd-scaled snake
What Other Reptiles Live in Japan?
Green Anoles: These lizards are recognizable by their bright green scales and their ability to change their coloring to brown. They generally measure between 5 – 8 inches and are native to the Caribbean (the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, and Cuba).
However, they have also settled down nicely on Japan’s Ogasawara Islands where they have set upon native insect populations with a will. As a result, they were recognized as an invasive species whose presence was detrimental to arthropods in the region in 2005.
Green grass lizards: Slender and covered in a bold, vivid green, these reptiles are native to Japan’s Kodakarajima, Takarajima, and Tokara Islands which are part of the Ryukyu archipelago. Active in the daytime, they enjoy a diet of arthropods. Green grass lizards are however under threat from introduced populations of mongooses and weasels which have taken it upon themselves to help themselves to the local wildlife.
Summary of Snakes in Japan
|Index||Species||Location||Venomous or Nonvenomous|
|1||Japanese Rat Snake||Most of the Japanese Archipelago||Nonvenomous|
|2||Japanese Striped Snake||Throughout Japan(with the exception of the Ryukyu Islands)||Nonvenomous|
|3||Jimguri||All four main islands||Nonvenomous|
|4||Yamakagashi||Most of mainland Japan and the Ryukyu Islands||Venomous|
|5||Japanese Keelback||Waterfronts and mountain forests||Nonvenomous|
|6||Mamushi||Throughout Japan(possibly the Ryukyu Islands)||Venomous|
What Country Has No Snakes?
While it may not seem likely that there are any places on Earth that are completely snake-free, there are actually quite a handful of countries throughout the world that do not have any populations of snakes. Many of these locations are island nations which is one of the reasons it is thought these reptiles have not been able to migrate to them. If you would prefer to steer clear of these slithering serpents, you might want to relocate to one of these locales:
- New Zealand
- Cook Islands
- Cape Verde
- Pacific Islands (encompassing over 12 countries and territories)
The United States 49th state of Alaska is also among the snake-free zones and while there are no native snakes in the state of Hawaii, it is not snake-free due to the illegal smuggling trade as well as travel and stowaways.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Ken Griffiths/Shutterstock.com
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