What image does the name “Tibetan Hot Spring snake” conjure up for you?
Is it a snake relaxing in a hot spring, like those monkeys in Japan?
Well, that’s not quite what they do.
But they do use the thermally heated waters to regulate their body temperature.
That allows them to live at higher altitudes than any other known snake species.
And that’s not the only fascinating thing about these snakes. They are actually related to another species that lives on the other side of the world!
How did that happen?
Keep reading to learn that, along with everything else you need to know about this unique species of snake.
Table of Contents
- 1 Tibetan Hot Spring Snake
- 2 Tibetan Hot Spring Snake: Common Questions
- 3 Tibetan Hot Spring Snake: Final Thoughts
Tibetan Hot Spring Snake
The Tibetan Hot Spring snake, also known as Bailey’s Snake or the Hot Spring Keelback, is an endangered species of snake generally found on the Tibetan Plateau.
They live at an altitude of around 4,300 meters above sea level and higher. In fact, one thing they are known for is that they live at altitudes higher than any other snake known to man!
Tibetan Hot Spring snakes are usually yellow-green or olive green in color with a grey underside. They don’t grow any larger than 2.5 feet (77 cm) in length. You can identify Tibetan Hot Spring snakes by their unique spot patterns and a singular dark stripe on their back.
These snakes are generally very shy and timid. They scurry away upon seeing humans and don’t fancy interacting with them. They are used to living lives of solitude and do not like being disturbed.
As mentioned before, Tibetan Hot Spring snakes live at high altitudes in the Himalayas of the Tibetan Plateau. They often reside in marshy areas and rocks located near hot springs wit low sulfur concentrations.
Since they are cold-blooded animals, they cannot regulate their own body temperatures and have to move from one habitat to another according to the temperature of their surroundings, in order to satisfy their requirements.
However, recent surveys also show that Tibetan Hot Spring snakes can be found in grass fields far away from the hot springs.
The Tibetan Hot Spring snake’s diet is primarily tadpoles, frogs, and small fish. Examples of animals they eat are the Dicroglossid Frog, the Minnow, and Elongate Stone Loaches.
We do not know much about Tibetan Hot Spring snakes, because they live at such high altitudes and that their population is widely dispersed and few in number. We still do not even know if they lay eggs or are viviparous.
To mate, male Tibetan Hot Spring snakes travel from one hot spring site to another via local streams. Females usually stick to their habitat and do not migrate for mating.
Like many snakes, Tibetan Hot Spring snakes mate mostly during the summer season. However, the duration of summer is very short on the Tibetan Plateau, especially at higher altitudes. For that reason, reproduction cycles are seasonal.
A Distant Relative
The Tibetan Hot Spring snake was first discovered in 1907 by Frank Wall. He studied and analyzed specimens of this species sent to him by Lt F. M. Bailey, after whom the snake was originally named. That first name was Natrix Baileyi.
Later, it was renamed Thermophis Baileyi (Thermophis meaning hot-snake). Local Tibetans claim that snakes of this species could previously be found within an 800-meter radius around sulfur-free hot springs. In the present, however, it is very rare to find them roaming freely in the wild.
Upon further analysis, it was found that Bailey’s snake is very closely related to Xenodontines, a South American species of snakes which belongs to the same genetic family as the Tibetan Hot Spring snake (the Colubrid family).
The astonishing fact that the closest living relatives of the Tibetan Hot Spring snake (snakes which are known to live at altitudes higher than any other discovered species of snake) live roughly 16,000 km away in the Southern Hemisphere, can be explained by the theory that the common ancestor for the entire Colubrid family possibly lived in Asia around 30 million years ago.
Later, these snakes spread to America via the Bering Land Bridge, and eventually populated South America!
Are Tibetan Hot Spring Snakes Poisonous?
Tibetan Hot spring snakes are non-venomous. However, a few species of the Bailey’s Snake may have a fair concentration of toxins in their saliva.
In the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), the Bailey’s Snake is classified as vulnerable. This means that it is a species of snake that has a very high chance of becoming endangered, unless serious efforts are made to protect them, by doing things like artificially recreate their habitat, ensuring ease of breeding and reproduction, providing a consistent supply of prey, and more.
Causes Of Endangerment
There are several reasons why Tibetan Hot Spring snakes have become vulnerable:
- Local Tibetans have damaged the natural habitat of Tibetan Hot Spring snakes, by modifying the natural stone topology
- Construction of roads and thermoelectric power plants
- Geothermal energy exploitation projects.
- Climate change and global warming have caused mountainous habitats to no longer be favorable for their body’s temperature needs, which has caused Tibetan Hot Spring snakes to migrate to even higher altitudes; many snakes do not survive the migration journey as they become susceptible to attack from predators.
Methods Of Salvation
Protecting the Hot Spring snake species, without hindering the economic development of the local Tibetans, is proving to be a challenge. A few ways in which we can achieve the best for both are:
- Creating public awareness about the endangerment status of this species.
- Providing financial aid and support to activists. Funding options should be made open to both the government as well as local and global citizens.
- Biologists need to conduct extensive studies and surveys on the species’ population distribution, diet, possible predators, and habitat to figure out the most effective ways of protecting them from further endangerment. The population of the Tibetan Hot Spring snake should be recorded before and after any development projects that are conducted in those areas, to analyze their impact on the local fauna.
- Building artificial snake habitats for them.
- Reintroducing animals that Tibetan Hot Spring snakes prey on (tadpoles, frogs, small fish, etc.) into their habitats. These animals are equally impacted by geothermal energy exploitation projects and must also be protected and monitored.
Tibetan Hot Spring Snake: Common Questions
The following are some common related questions we get. If you have additional questions that are not answered here, please ask them in the comments below.
Are there snakes in hot springs?
Yes, snakes can shelter under rocks, fallen tree branches, and other sulfur-free zones near hot springs. This is not limited to the non-venomous Tibetan snake we are discussing today. You can find snakes in hot springs all over the world, including venomous species.
Are Bailey’s snakes poisonous?
No, Tibetan hot-spring snakes, or Bailey’s snakes, are not venomous.
What is the highest altitude snakes could live at?
Other than the Tibetan Hot Spring snakes, some species, like the Himalayan pit viper, have been found at altitudes of more than 16,000 feet, around swamp bodies, forests, deserts, and grasslands.
What do Hot Spring Snakes eat?
Hot Spring Snakes survive on amphibians and fish found in sulfur-free zones, such as marshes, rocks, rivers, etc.
Tibetan Hot Spring Snake: Final Thoughts
The Tibetan Hot Spring snake might not relax in a hot spring like we, or a Japanese monkey would, but that does not make it any less fascinating. Just the fact that they can survive at those extreme altitudes is amazing.
Then there is the fact that they are closely related to a species of snake that lives in South America. Isn’t it amazing how species migrated in the past? It was just us humans.
Hopefully, this short article has left you with a better understanding of this unique species of snake. As mentioned above, please feel free to ask questions in the comments below, or to add some information that you feel we should have included.