For some people, snakes seem like fearsome creatures. The image of a venomous snake’s fangs haunts many nightmares. But did you know that venomous snakes are in the minority? Of the 179 snake species that have made the Philippines their official home, only 14 are poisonous and pose harm to man, according to a 2014 article on the Top Ten PH website.

Misunderstood as villains

Perhaps because of the unfortunate biblical connection most people view snakes with some distrust.

The truth is, most snakes provide a balance to the environment by eating rats, mice, and other rodents in the garden. They prey on animals capable of eluding other predators, such as grasshoppers or ticks. They will even prey on slower animals, such as slugs and snails.

Turning the tables

Even though they look like fierce predators, snakes are themselves prey to a variety of other animals, such as birds of prey, mongooses, and even humans.

Snakes are shy, fearful animals who prefer to avoid humans as much as we tend to avoid them. Snakes who seem to be acting aggressive are most likely exhibiting defensive behavior to discourage any approach.

How to handle a snake encounter

If you ever encounter a snake in your garden or out in the wild, try to give them lots of room and never try to capture them. Don’t disturb a sleeping snake, and don’t make them feel threatened. Even non-venomous snakes will fight back ferociously if they are backed into a corner.

Serpent scent

Snakes have a particular odor that becomes even more pronounced when they are stressed. This is their way of dissuading predators and other threats. Snakes secrete this scent, reminiscent of rotting meat, to convince others that they would make an unappetizing meal.

Strangely, garter snakes use this same scent to attract mates.

5 Philippine snakes you might encounter

Here are five snakes you might encounter in your backyard or garden – there’s no need to fear them, as long as they are given the space they need.

1. Gervai’s Worm Snake (Calamaria gervaisii)

These snakes, named after French zoologist Paul Gervais, are endemic to the Philippine islands. Their range covers Basilan, Catanduanes, Cebu, Lubang, Luzon, Mindanao, Mindoro, Negros, Panay, Polillo, and Tablas, according to a 2009 article published in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

C. gervaisii live in forests and plantations and are known as a burrowing species of snakes. This is great for better soil drainage and a more stable soil structure. Incidentally, this means they tend to increase the productivity of your garden, if you are growing fruits and vegetables.

2. Flower Pot Snake (Indotyphlops braminus. Ramyphotyphlops braminus)

Commonly known as the brahminy blind snake or flower pot snake, these tiny snakes look more like earthworms than snakes upon first glance. Upon closer inspection, however, they have tiny scales that are the same from head to tail. In fact, they are the only snake species who have head scales that resemble their body scales.

Just like C. gervasisii, brahminy blind snakes are fossorial or burrowing animals, and just like the earthworms they resemble, they increase nutrient absorption and improve soil drainage and structure.

They also eat the larvae, eggs, and pupae of ants and termites.

3. Philippine rat snake (Coelognathus erythrurus)

Coelognathus erythrurus, or the Philippine rat snake, can be found in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia. There are many kinds of Philippine rat snakes, with brown and red-tailed varieties as well as varieties endemic to Luzon and Palawan.

As the name implies, rats are a favorite food for these snakes. They are constrictors like their larger cousins, the pythons and boa constrictors, which means that they squeeze their prey to death with their bodies and swallow them whole.

Rat snakes will even continue hunting right after a successful feeding, because they are covered in the scent of their prey, making it even harder for other prey to notice them. They can hunt and eat many rats in a single meal.

4. Luzon bronzeback snake (Dendrelaphis caudolineatus luzonensis)

Known locally as Bungog na halas, the Luzon bronzeback snake is a long slender snake that lives in trees. This striped snake is often erroneously called “garter snake” in the Philippines, although they are distinct from the garter snakes found in the gardens and woods of North America.

These arboreal snakes help control the population of lizards and tree frogs. Unfortunately, they are even sometimes sold as pets. Remember, though, that any bronze tree snake kept in captivity will not live as long as a wild snake would, so maybe reconsider your dreams of keeping a bronzeback as a pet.

5. Common wolf snake (Lycodon capucinus. Lycodon aulicus)

A regular sight in many backyards and house comers, this nocturnal species is otherwise known as the house snake, because they’re known to be found living in old, abandoned properties near forested areas.

There are 10 species of wolf snake in the Philippines, but they are illegal to keep as animal companions. This is just as well, as they can be defensive and territorial, and will bite if you attempt to handle them, despite being completely non-venomous.

Unlike the rat snake, the wolf snake’s diet focuses on amphibians and reptiles, and like the bronzeback also prey on frogs and geckos.

Making a snake-friendly garden

According to a 2021 article from Eartheasy.com, anyone can make their garden more hospitable to garden snakes with a few easy tips.

1. Provide hiding places

First, remember that snakes need hiding spots and shade from the sun. Leave hides around the landscape, such as hollow logs, rock piles, or even sheets of plywood or metal to serve as hides for our reptilian friends.

2. Let the sunshine in

On the flip side, snakes loves places to bask in the sun. If you have a lawn, mowing itcan give them a spot on the grass to soak up the sun rays, and will allow you to spot them out in the open.

3. Keep chemicals away

If you plan on having snakes in your garden, avoid using harsh chemicals and pesticides. Being predators, snakes accumulate all the poisons and toxins from all the animals they eat, who can themselves be full of the chemicalsthat we introduce into the soil. Instead, use non-toxic ways to bring ecological balance to your garden.

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s March-April 2021 issue.

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