Big-eyed mountain keelback (Pseudoxenodon macrops)

Also known as: big-eyed bamboo snake, false cobra, large-eyed bamboo snake, large-eyed false cobra, mock cobra
Synonyms: Natrix handeli, Pseudoxenodon fukienensis, Pseudoxenodon sinensis, Tropidonotus angusticeps, Tropidonotus handeli, Tropidonotus macrops, Tropidonotus sikkimensis, Tropidonotus tigrinus var. niger, Xenodon macrophthalmus
GenusPseudoxenodon (1)
SizeTotal length: up to 111.5 cm (2)

The big-eyed mountain keelback is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

As its common name suggests, the big-eyed mountain keelback (Pseudoxenodon macrops) is known for its large eyes and the strongly keeled scales down its back, which give its skin a rough texture (2). The colouration of this snake is quite variable across its extensive distribution, but generally ranges from brown to blackish, with short transverse stripes across the body (3).

In contrast, the underside of the big-eyed mountain keelback is yellow with black spots. The top of the narrow, oval head may be bluish-green, and is marked with a distinctive black, arrow-shaped stripe (2).

The big-eyed mountain keelback has been divided into three subspecies, Pseudoxenodon macrops macrops, Pseudoxenodon macrops fukienensis and Pseudoxenodon macrops sinensis (1) (2) (3).

The big-eyed mountain keelback is widely distributed across South and Southeast Asia, from parts of China, India and Nepal, south through Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Cambodia, to Peninsular Malaysia (1) (2) (3). This species also occurs in Bhutan (4).

The big-eyed mountain keelback inhabits forest borders and cultivated lands near rivers in hills, plateaus and mountainous areas, usually between 700 and 2,700 metres above sea level (2), but occasionally between 500 and 3,296 metres (5).

Despite its wide distribution, this mountain-dwelling snake remains poorly understood. A terrestrial species, the big-eyed mountain keelback is known to primarily feed on frogs and lizards (6), and females have been recorded to produce 11 to 23 eggs per clutch, with the eggs hatching from May to August (2). This species is reported to be active during the day (3).

When disturbed, the big-eyed mountain keelback lifts the front part of the body and flattens its neck like a cobra, giving it the alternative names of ‘false cobra’ and ‘mock cobra’. However, this species is not dangerous to humans as it only has very weak venom which is injected through enlarged, grooved teeth at the back of the snake’s mouth (7).

The main threat to the big-eyed mountain keelback is habitat loss (1) (2), particularly from shifting agriculture (1). However, this snake remains widespread and locally common, and the threats to its habitat tend to be localised (1).

Although it is harmless to humans, the big-eyed mountain keelback may potentially be killed when encountered due to its mimicry of dangerous cobra species (1).

In some parts of its range, the big-eyed mountain keelback is classified as ‘major protected wildlife’ (2). This species is likely to occur in a number of protected areas, but it is not currently believed to require any specific conservation measures (1).

The big-eyed mountain keelback shows great variation in colour across its range, and genetic studies into its taxonomic status may be beneficial. Further studies into the biology and behaviour of this snake may also prove useful should the big-eyed mountain keelback require conservation measures in the future (2).

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2012)
  2. Zhao, E.M., Huang, M.H. and Zong, Y. (1998) Fauna Sinica: Reptilia, Volume 3: Squamata: Serpentes. Science Press, Beijing.
  3. The Reptile Database (August, 2012)
  4. Bauer, A.M. and Günther, R. (1992) A preliminary report on the reptile fauna of the Kingdom of Bhutan with the description of a new species of scincid lizard. Asiatic Herpetological Research, 4: 23-36.
  5. Zhao, E. (2006) Snakes of China. Anhui Science and Technology Publishing House, Hefei, China.
  6. Shah, K.B. and Tiwari, S. (2004) Herpetofauna of Nepal: A Conservation Companion. IUCN, Kathmandu, Nepal.
  7. Schleich, H.H. and Kästle, W. (2002) Amphibians and Reptiles of Nepal: Biology, Systematics, Field Guide. Koeltz Scientific Books, Koenigstein, Germany.