NUS lecturer finds snake species not seen here in 172 years

An NUS senior lecturer has slid into the history books by finding a snake species which had not been seen here in 172 years, confirming the snake’s presence in contemporary Singapore.

Dr John van Wyhe, a senior lecturer at NUS Biological Sciences and Tembusu College found this snake specimen while mountain biking at Bukit Timah on 16 September.

Known by its scientific name Ramphotyphlops lineatus, its presence in Singapore was deemed ‘indeterminate’ for more than a century, but since Dr van Wyhe’s encounter, the snake has now been confirmed ‘extant’.

Describing how he found the rare reptile, Dr van Wyhe said, “I was mountain biking at Bukit Timah and came across a small silver object on the trail. I had never seen such a strange creature. It seemed to have no head. There were no eyes and no jaws at the front. However, it had scales so it could not be a worm. So, I guessed it must be some sort of blind snake.”

Ramphotyphlops lineatus is a striped and worm-like snake, and can be approximately 50cm in length. In fact, the specimen found by Dr van Wyhe is 4cm longer than the maximum total length recorded for this species. The name Ramphotyphlops comes from the Greek ‘typhlops’ meaning blind, ‘rhamphos’ meaning a curving beak or bill, and lineatus is Latin for lined.

After taking some pictures, Dr van Wyhe determined that the snake was dead, and so moved it from the trail to avoid the specimen getting damaged. After posting about the snake on social media, a former student of Tembusu College and member of the Herpetological Society of Singapore, Rachel Seah, inquired if Dr van Wyhe could collect the snake for preservation. 

“So the following day I rode back to Bukit Timah and found the snake still there,” Dr van Wyhe said. The dead reptile was then moved with NParks’ permission.

Dr van Wyhe passed the snake to Ms Seah who helped identify it along with the co-founder of the Herpetological Society of Singapore, Mr Law Ing Sind. The trio then reported the snake in the Singapore Biodiversity Records hosted by the NUS Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

See news reports.