2 Types of Sunbeam Snakes (Comparison with Pictures)

The genus of sunbeam snakes is a small one, containing only two species, both located in Southeast Asia.

These snakes are known for their interesting, light-reflecting scales. 

In today’s article, we’ll be learning about the two types of sunbeam snakes.

  • Xenopeltis unicolor
  • Xenopeltis hainanensis

1. Xenopeltis unicolor

This snake found in Southeast Asia and parts of Indonesia is the more popular of the two snakes.

Just like the other sunbeam snake species, it is not venomous and it kills by constricting its prey.

These animals are easily recognized because of their scales, which have a layer of reflective nanostructures below the surface, making them reflect light in such a specific way.

In many ways, sunbeam snakes are similar to boas and pythons, but it is still unclear to which family they belong.

Sunbeam snakes aren’t large, rarely growing past 3 feet in length.

In the wild, they usually spend their time below ground and they’re not particularly aggressive towards people – they’ll run to their burrow instead of fighting.

There is no clear answer to the question of why are sunbeam snakes iridescent – nobody knows why they developed the nanostructures that reflect light.

2. Xenopeltis hainanensis

At first glance, these two snakes are identical, but there are key differences between them. 

Although both species grow up to 3 feet in length, Xenopeltis hinanensis has a shorter tail and fewer maxillary teeth.

They also have one scale behind the eye, while Xenopeltis unicolor has two of them.

The most obvious similarity between the two is the iridescence of the scales.

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These iridescent snakes aren’t common all across Southeast Asia like their cousins. 

Instead, isolated populations are found in Southeast China and North Vietnam.

There, they mostly feed on frogs, lizards, other snakes, and small mammals they find on the forest floor.

To End

Sunbeam snakes are non-venomous animals found in Southeast Asia and both species within the genus are famous for their iridescent scales. 

They’re immensely popular with snake collectors because of their iridescence.

This effect is caused by a layer of reflective nanostructures below the scales.

However, it is still unknown why they developed this adaptation, but it might have something to do with burrowing, as these snakes spend almost the entirety of their lives under the ground.

James Ball

James has had a lifelong passion for animals and nature, tracing back to his childhood where he first began fostering intimate knowledge and connection with pet frogs and snakes. He has since honed this interest into a career as a trained Wildlife Biologist, specializing in Biogeography, sustainability and conservation. In addition to his professional pursuits, James maintains an active lifestyle, regularly indulging in outdoor activities such as hiking, and musical pursuits like playing piano and swimming.

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