Five species of snakes have been recorded from St Lucia. Of these, the cribo, is extinct. Three others, fer-de-lance, boa constrictor and worm snake live on the mainland, The fourth, the St Lucia Racer, holds on to Maria Islet, but was probably common on the main-land before the introduction of the mongoose.
The Fer-de-Lance (Bothrops caribbaeus)
Locally called serpent, belongs to the family VIPERIDAE. Until 1964, our Fer-de-Lance has been lumped with others from Martinique, Trinidad and the continent in one species Bothrops atrox. The local serpent has now been assigned the status of a separate species and is a St. Lucian viper.
Bothrops caribbaeus was here long before man. The serpent is usually coloured brownish grey, some individuals are yellowish and yet others may be copper red; the underside is always very pale yellow.
The head is broadly triangular evidence of large poison glands, and the snout is slightly upturned. The eyes are covered by transparent scales so they cannot close. Serpents are reported to grow as long as seven feet.
Its range extends from Roseau to Canaries on the west coast, and from Marquis to Micoud on the east. It is confined mainly to coastal areas and is not common at elevations above 600 feet. Food consists mainly of warm-blooded animals like birds and rats and even mongoose. Bothrops is a live-bearer and may give birth to as many as sixty young.
The Boa Constrictor (Constrictor constrictor)
Also known as Tete-Chien is our largest snake and belongs to the family BOIDAE. The ground colour of Constrictor is light brown with dark crossbars on the back. On the sides are dark spots with light centres; the belly is yellow with black spots. A brown line from the snout passes through the eye.
As its local name suggests, the head of the tete-chien bears a remarkable resemblance to that of a dog. The tete-chien bears no poison fangs but its jaws are armed with numerous, fine, sharp, hook-like teeth, making it virtually impossible for any small animal to wriggle free from these needle-sharp teeth once the jaws of the snake have fastened upon it.
Constrictors kill their prey by grabbing it with the jaws and quickly enveloping it in suffocating coils. The animal dies because its breathing and heartbeat are stopped. Prey is not crushed to death.
The ranges of the two snakes coincide but while Bothrops prefers the ground and scrubby and cultivated areas, Constrictor keeps to the bush and trees. Like the viper, the constrictor is a live-bearer.
Our two other snakes are quite rare and have been seen by very few people.
The St Lucia Racer (Leimadophis ornatus)
Also known as the couresse snake, is now restricted to Maria Islet, its last refuge in the whole world. It belongs to the largest family of snakes, COLUBRIDAE, and grows to a length of three feet. The back is coloured olive-brown with a black zig-zag pattern down the back. It feeds on lizards and frogs and possibly small birds.
The Guinness Book of Records bills our fourth snake, called the Worm Snake (Leptotyphlops bilineatus) as the world’s smallest snake. It belongs to the family LEPTOTYPHYLOPIDAE and measures only six inches long and one eighth of an inch wide, is brown with two brassy yellow lines running down the back. It spends most of its life underground and emerges only when the ground is saturated by rain.
The eyes are small and covered by the head scales and do not form images but are sensitive to changes in light intensity. Food consists mainly of soil insects such as ants and termites. The worm snake bears teeth only on the lower jaw and is able to locate food by smell. It is an egg layer.
The fifth snake, the Cribo (Clelia clelia) no longer exists in St Lucia, but can be found in Dominica and Grenada. It is a large Colubrid snake which grows to over seven feet.
The colour is glossy black over the entire body though the belly may be lighter. It carries poison fangs at the rear of the mouth but will not bite even when handled. It apparently eats other snakes and is immune to venom.