The Common Big-Eyed Snake

In Madagascar, no one needs to be afraid of snakes. One of the most common snakes in the west and south of the island is the Common Big-Eyed Snake (Mimophis mahfalensis). But it is also one of the most harmless snakes that only bite in the worst of times. If you simply watch it, you will discover exciting behaviours. The snake is named after the Mahafaly tribe, in whose traditional area of origin it occurs most frequently.

A very dark male in Isalo


The Common Big-Eyed Snake lives above all in drier areas of Madagascar. Savannahs and spiny forests such as in the protected areas of Zombitse-Vohibasia, Isalo and Reniala in the south are their home. Its sister species Mimophis occultus inhabits the northern half of the island. Although it is so adaptable, the Common Big-Eyed Snake only occurs on the red island, so it is endemic to Madagascar. The narrow snake grows to a maximum length of 75 cm. The males of the Common Big-Eyed Snake usually carry a dark zigzag drawing on the back, that blur to thick lines more rarely, while the females rather remain monochrome brown. This makes it easy to distinguish them. In addition, gravid females have a bigger shape than slender males.

The Common Big-Eyed Snake is diurnal. Especially in the course of the early morning, it is often found on the ground when hunting, where it finds the burrows of small mammals and hiding places of sand iguanas and other small reptiles. If the snake finds potential prey, it kills it with a targeted bite. From extended teeth, that lie far back in the jaw directly under the eyes, it secretes a small amount of poison when biting. Rodents and iguanas die quite quickly. For humans, however, the poison is not dangerous, especially as Common Big-Eyed Snakes are considered very quiet, friendly and sociable.

A gravid female at the edge of the southern highlands


If you want to watch Common Big-Eyed Snakes, you have to be patient. In the morning you can find them quite fast when they warm up in the sun on sandy paths, but they also disappear quickly out of reach. But sometimes you have to look very closely to discover a Common Big-Eyed Snakes: Some individuals camouflage themselves in a kind of rigidity completely motionless from humans at tree trunks. They are then often confused with a branch – and sit perfectly for a nice photo.

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