—This article by Jerry Cates and Ashley D., first published on 7 April 2010, was last revised on 24 April 2016. © Bugsinthenews Vol. 11:04(05).
“My mom and I found this snake on our porch. We’re not sure what kind it is; all we know is it is a baby snake.
We live in Temple, Texas.”
It is interesting that Ashley and her mom thought this was a snake. Most mistake it for an earthworm. Its tiny eye spots are covered by a thick scale, and are nearly hidden from view.
Blind snakes are nonvenomous snakes with degenerate eyes covered by opaque head scales. They are found in practically all regions of the world where termites and ants (which they prey upon almost exclusively) abound.
These serpents are grouped, taxonomically, in one superfamily, Typhlopoidea, which is, in turn, divided into the three families Anomalepidae, Leptotyhphlopidae, and Typhlopidae. Only one of these families (Leptotyphlopidae) is represented in the U.S. and Canada. Here, the family is represented by but one genus(Leptotyphlops) and two species (L. humilis, commonly known as the Western Blind Snake, and L. dulcis, commonly known as the Texas Blind Snake).
Distinguishing between the two species requires examining the head of the snake under sufficient magnification to discern the arrangement of scales between the specimen’s degenerate eyes. If the scale pattern in this area does not include separate supraocular scales between the lateral scale over the eye and the spinal scale, the snake is a Western Blind Snake (L. humilis); but if the supraocular scales are present, it is a Texas Blind Snake (L. dulcis).
Rarely do I receive photos of blind snakes (actually, photos of blind snakes are just plain rare, period) of sufficient resolution and quality to enable such an examination. However, Ashley’s photos are outstanding, and they clearly show that–with her specimen–the supraocular scales are present. Thus we can say, with certainty, that this is a Texas Blind Snake.
One of the interesting features of the blind snakes is the way their scales look to the naked eye.
Harry W. Greene, in his 1997 book “Snakes: The Evolution of Mystery in Nature”, p. 143-4, relates first how Frank Wall, writing in 1918, complained about the difficulties he encountered trying to discern the true outlines of the scales of specimens he examined.
Then Dr. Greene quoted a curse penned by James R. Dixon–who with John E. Werler wrote the 2000 book “Texas Snakes”–on a species of blind snake he had just named with the Greek word argalon (meaning “troublesome, vexatious“), in this wise:
“We castigate the ancient lineage that begat Liotyphlops, for it is obviously the worst designed snake from which to obtain systematic data.”
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