Tobago has about 25 species of snake, none of which are venomous. Most of these species can be found in and around the Main Ridge. Among them are the Boa Constrictor - the largest snake on the island; the Brown Vine Snake - a common snake also found in gardens; and the Tobago False Coral – which can be found nowhere else in the world! Together these three species highlight just some of the different shapes, sizes and habits of snake fauna found in the reserve.
Like all snakes, it is a predator and is most active at night when it sets off on a hunt for opossums, rodents, birds and reptiles, which it ambushes, bites and squeezes to death (hence the ‘constrictor’ part of its name).
Although this is a terrifying prospect for these small creatures, it is not venomous and not aggressive to humans unless provoked.
Sadly, it is not uncommon to come across boa roadkill, as the snakes commonly use the North Side, Windward and Bloody Bay-Roxborough roads to move between patches of forest in the MRR.
It is more commonly known as the ‘Horsewhip’, due to its slender build and distinct pointed snout; indeed it is considerably shorter and slimmer than the Boa, but nonetheless can reach a length of 1.5 metres. True to its name, this snake spends most of its time in the trees beautifully mimicking a vine to camouflage it from both predators and unsuspecting prey. If a predator sees through its clever disguise, the horsewhip will open its mouth wide, revealing a dark lining which it is believed gives some predators a fright.
It too is an important predator in the MRR, favouring lizards but also feasting on frogs and small birds given the opportunity. Being both long and lightweight means it can hunt prey even on the thinnest branches, where it uses a ‘sit and wait’ strategy.
Much less is known about the next snake, the Tobago False Coral or ‘Red Snake’ (Erythrolampus ocellatus), aside for the important fact that so far it has been found nowhere else in the world and is thus classified as ‘endemic’ to the island.
It is the smallest of the three snakes, reaching just 50 cm long, and is a striking red colour with black and white eye spots along its back. Although it superficially resembles Trinidad’s venomous coral snake, it is in fact harmless to humans.
Undoubtedly we have a lot more to learn about this iconic species, but in the meantime it would be an excellent flagship species for the protection of snakes and other biodiversity within the Main Ridge; not only is it endemic to Tobago, but it already boasts the colours of the national flag!
Some people simply dislike snakes, but there is never a rational reason to kill a snake in Tobago. None of Tobago’s snakes are venomous and they all serve important roles in the ecosystem, not least in regulating the populations of prey species. In fact, snakes can be used as ‘indicators’ of ecosystem health; if there are healthy populations of predators, there must be healthy populations of prey!
So, whether you are a snake-lover, or someone who is stricken with fear at the sight of one, when it comes to snakes the right response is always to ‘live and let live’.