Searching for reptiles in Bali

Bali has a rich diversity of reptiles and amphibians so I teamed up with Bali Reptile Rescue to look for species I have never seen before.

Bali Reptile Rescue as its name suggests removes problematic snakes from people’s properties and relocates them to safer areas. I met up with Agus Putra in Ubud and from there we traveled by scooter around the island at night.

Our first stop south of Ubud took us through rice paddies and along the edge of a river. On arriving at the site Agus carefully removed a square tray made from a palm leaf, filled with rice, flowers and incense – an offering to the Gods to allow us to see many snakes. These kinds of offerings are a very common sight in Bali and you can see them outside nearly every shop and home. We saw several Painted Bronzeback snakes (Dendrepalphis pictus) resting in the trees. A harmless species, it is arguably Bali’s most common snake and the best way to spot them is to shine a torch into the trees at night. Their pale bellies give them away.

Painted Bronzeback snake
Painted Bronzeback (Dendrelaphis pictus)

We also saw a couple of Keeled Slug Eating snakes (Pareas carinatus), a small and harmless species which feeds exclusively on slugs and snails. Further into the bush we found a male Green Pit Viper (Trimeresurus insularis) – my target species for the night. I had never seen this species in the wild so I was thrilled when we came across it curled up on a bush at waist level. Trimeresuras insularis is green coloured throughout much of its range but on the island of Komodo it is blue.

Green pit viper
Green Pit Viper (Trimeresurus insularis)

Sleeping deep inside a bush Agus found a Rat snake (Ptyas korros) – I have no idea how he spotted it and hidden amongst a tangle of leaves we found a beautiful juvenile Vine snake (Ahaetulla prasina).

Before leaving the site, Agus pulled out a pillow case from his backpack and removed a large Spotted Keelback (Rhabdophis chrysargos) that had been rescued and needed releasing. As we watched it slither off I spotted a brown, slightly speckled snake a few feet away. At first I thought it might have been a Malayan Krait (Bungarus candidus) – a highly venomous species which although commonly banded in colouration can also be brown. It turned out to be a harmless Wolf snake (Lycodon capucinus) but it pays to be extremely cautious if you aren’t 100% sure what species you are dealing with. In 2001 the herpetologist Joe Slowinski was bitten by a misidentified snake that turned out to be a krait. Unfortunately he lost his life. You can read about Slowinski’s fascinating life and tragic death in Jamie James’ book The Snake Charmer: A life and death in pursuit of knowledge.

After a terrifying, high speed scooter ride we arrived at a promenade just outside of Denpasar. Agus made another offering to the Gods and it seemed to have worked because he turned around and immediately pulled out a huge female Yellow Lipped Sea Krait (Laticauda colubrina) from the rocks behind him. Although dangerously venomous they are not aggressive and it made no attempt to bite. But please avoid handling them unless you know what you are doing.

Yellow Lipped Sea Kraits spend the day hunting for fish and then nestle amongst the rocks at night. They are beautiful snakes with a yellowish face, blue and black banded bodies and large paddle shaped tails for swimming.

We also found a male which are always much smaller than the females. It was curled up amongst masses of plastic waste that had collected in the wave breakers and had a badly damaged tail. Many of Bali’s beaches have problems with plastic waste so please don’t add to the problem and decline a straw with your next drink.

Our last stop took us to a patch of scrubby forest near to more rice paddies in search of Mangrove Snakes (Boiga dendrophila). As usual Agus performed another offering to the Gods but it would seem they were in my favour this time as I spotted a large Mangrove snake that Agus had walked past only moments before.

This species is usually black with yellow bands but the specimen we found was black with white bands. Agus told me that the white banded form had been introduced to the island several years ago and I unfortunately never got to see the native yellow banded form.

Mangrove snakes can be particularly aggressive, especially at night when they are most active but the one we found was relatively calm. They are venomous and although not life threatening, the bites can be incredibly painful and may require medical intervention.

We continued our search along the water channels next to the rice fields hoping to spot a Malayan Krait but unfortunately didn’t find any. As we were leaving we saw a sleeping Crested Canopy lizard (Bronchocela jubata) and only a few meters away a very large female Green Pit Viper (Trimeresurus insularis) resting high up in a tree.

Canopy lizard
Created Canopy Lizard (Bronchocela jubata)

I had hoped to see a Spitting Cobra (Naja sputatrix) and a Reticulated Python (Python reticulatus) but it wasn’t the best time of year to see them as they are more commonly seen during the wet season.

Without the help of Bali Reptile Rescue I would never have had the opportunity to see so many snakes in one evening. And if like me you are travelling with someone who doesn’t want to spend every waking minute looking for reptiles, a trip with Bali Reptile Rescue means you can get your snake fix without compromising your partner’s entire holiday!

Bali Reptile Rescue can collect you at most of the main resort towns and I paid 700,000 IDR for a 5 hour trip.

Remember to bring a head torch, camera and suitable footwear.

They also offer a 2 day King Cobra trip starting at 5,000,000 IDR and this is definitely on my list for the next time I’m in Bali.

Bali Reptile Rescue can be contacted through their website or through Facebook


One thought on “Searching for reptiles in Bali

  1. Cool story, Rich, it makes me wish I lived in an area that had more reptiles to go looking for, especially snakes! Also, as a completely random comment, when I was going to school the herpetology students were some of my favorite to hang out with; they all seemed to have lots of energy and great senses of humor. Yes, I’m (positively) stereotyping based on a limited set of data.


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