Reptiles of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is considered a hot spot for reptile observation. The tropical climatic conditions, natural forest cover and favorable environmental conditions have promoted the survival and breeding of reptiles. There are 208 species of reptiles in Sri Lanka with 116 endemic species. Sri Lanka is home to all categories of reptiles namely Crocodiles, Snakes, Lizards and Monitors and Turtle & tortoise. Interestingly Sri Lanka has 96 species of snakes, one of the highest densities of snakes in the world with close to 50% being endemic. There are 13 species of coastal water snakes, 10 species of blind snakes and just five truly venomous. Sri Lanka has two species of Crocodiles the Mugger and it has 08 species of marine turtles in addition to fresh water turtles and a single species of land tortoise. Most of the reptiles can be seen in Yala, Wilpattu, Udawalawe, Wasgamuwa, Minneriya, Sinharaja and in all national parks in the country.

1. Sri Lankan Krait

March 31, 2023 | by Krishan

Also known as Ceylon Krait (Bungarus ceylonicus) is a venomous elapid snake endemic to Sri Lanka. It is chiefly found in the wet zone and the intermediate zone compromising the mountainous areas. The Sri Lankan Krait is small in size being about 250mm (10 inches) and can be recognized by its black body traversed with white bands. It is known to have an unusually long lung that is elongated when irritated and feeds primarily on rats, frogs and other small reptiles.

2. Boulenger’s Keelback

February 18, 2023 | by Krishan

Boulenger's keelback (Xenochrophis asperrimus) also known as or Sri Lankan keelback is a non-venomous and common water snake endemic to Sri Lanka. It is found in both the dry and wet zones of the country. The distinctive features of this reptile is its short cylindrical body that is olive brown in colour, large black spots on the front of the body, its unusually long tail, dark head and the two black strips behind its eyes. Being nocturnal and diurnal, this reptile is seen frequenting fresh water bodies where it feeds mainly on fish, crustaceans, amphibians and small reptiles.

3. Sri Lankan Flying Snake

February 18, 2023 | by Krishan

The Sri Lankan flying snake (Chrysopelea taprobanica) is mainly found in the dry zone and intermediate climatic zones of Sri Lanka. It is a medium sized snake with a long flattened body that has distinct yellow and black stripes interspersed with red spots, along with a depressed head and large eyes with distinctive pupils. They are diurnal and found living mainly on trees where they are seen making long graceful glides between trees. This mildly venomous snake exists in cultivated fields and in thick vegetation where it feeds on small reptiles, birds and rodents.

The Olive Ridley Sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) is found existing in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. It is relatively small in size with a black heart shaped upper exoskeleton that turns olive green in adulthood. It averages 60-70 centimeters in length, with a weight not exceeding 50kg. The Olive Ridley, known to be the sea turtle found most abundantly comes ashore in a unique phenomenon known as “arribada” where large groups of females come all at once to nest. The Olive Ridley feeds mainly on jellyfish, shrimp, mollusks and fish and has an average lifespan of 50 years.

5. Loggerhead Sea Turtle

February 18, 2023 | by Krishan

The Loggerhead Sea turtle (Caretta caretta) is reddish brown in colour with a slightly heart shaped top shell and relatively large head. The adult length is approximately three feet with an adult weighing around 250 pounds (113 kg).

These marine reptiles are found mostly in salt water sometimes hundreds of miles out in the ocean and also in estuarine habitats such as bays, lagoons and salt marshes with females coming ashore momentarily for nesting. Being carnivores it feeds mainly on marine invertebrates, especially hard shelled crustaceans, which it devours with its powerful jaws. It is believed that the Loggerhead Sea turtle’s lifespan is approximately 50 years

6. Leatherback Sea Turtle

February 18, 2023 | by Krishan

The Leatherback Sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) is known as the largest of all living turtles and the fourth heaviest modern day reptile. It can be recognized by its large grayish-black teardrop shaped body covered by skin and oily flesh and the seven prominent ridges that run from the front to the back of its body. The Leatherback sea turtle grows up to seven feet (two meters) and is known to weigh over 2000 pounds (900 kg). Its hydrodynamic body shape along with a large pair of front flippers helps it to move strongly through the water, where it feeds mainly on jellyfish and other small sea animals.

The Green turtle (Chelonia mydas) is the most commonly found turtle in Sri Lanka and one of the largest known sea turtles. It can be recognized from its flattened body covered by a tear shaped shell that is blackish grey in colour, a smaller head than the loggerhead turtle and a pair of large paddle like flippers. The adult turtle is relatively large weighing between 68 and 190 kg with exceptional species weighing as much as 315 kg. It gets its name from the green colour fat found in the layers under its shell. They are found mainly thriving in the tropical waters of the ocean, feeding only on marine vegetation such as algae and sea grass, returning to the shore to lay eggs.

7. Mugger Crocodile

February 18, 2023 | by Krishan

The Mugger Crocodile (Crocodylus palustris) listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red list is one of the two species of Crocodiles found in Sri Lanka, the other being the Saltwater Crocodile. The adult Mugger Crocodile is blackish grey in colour with a broad elongated snout, the male growing to about 10 feet and weighing over 1000 pounds. It inhabits fresh water habitats such as lakes, ponds, tanks, rivers, swamps and marshes. Being a skilled predator, it waits in ambush for its kill which is mainly fish, reptiles, birds and mammals and in some cases humans too. A recent survey shows that the biggest population of Mugger Crocodile in the world, amounting to over 500 is found in the Yala National Park in Sri Lanka.

8. Hawksbill Turtle

February 18, 2023 | by Krishan

The Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) is a marine turtle that is listed as critically endangered by the World Conservation Union as a result of poachers seeking its beautiful ‘tortoise-shell’, which is commercially valuable, human consumption of tortoise flesh & eggs in addition to the reptile getting wedged in fishing gear. In appearance it is dark golden brown in colour with reddish orange streaks, its most distinctive feature being the thick scutes that make up its hard upper shell. The Hawksbill turtle is relatively small to medium in size with an elongated head that tapers into a pointed hawk-like beak. Its habitat is mainly coral reefs and shallow lagoons where it feeds on sponges, fish, sea anemones and jellyfish amongst others.

The Indian Cobra (Naja naja) also called the Indian Spectacled Cobra is moderately sized measuring generally around 1-1.5 meters, yet in Sri Lanka they have been seen to grow up to 2.1 – 2.2 meters. Its prominent characteristic features are its large impressive hood which it swells up assuming its typical sitting posture when endangered, its elliptical head and the wide black band on the underside of the neck. Its habitation is mostly in dense and open forests, paddy fields, wetlands and around human habitations where it feeds on rodent prey, lizards and frogs. This species is known to be highly venomous whose bite can be fatal.

10. Russels Viper

February 18, 2023 | by Krishan

The Russels viper (Daboia russelii) is a highly venomous and one of the most dangerous old world vipers in the whole of Asia being responsible for many snake bite related human deaths. It can grow to a maximum length of 166 cm (5.5 ft) averaging around 120 cm (4 ft). This slender built viper is recognized by its flattened head that is covered by fragmented scales and the deep yellow colour with its series of dark brown spots that run the length of the body. The Russells Viper is a nocturnal animal found living in open grassy fields, scrub jungle, wooded plantations where it feeds on rodents, small mammals, birds and frogs.

11. Saltwater Crocodile

February 18, 2023 | by Krishan

The Saltwater Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) is the largest living reptile and the largest living predator on land and water in the world. The male crocodile is generally between 14 and 17 ft in length, sometimes reaching up to 20.7 ft and weighs between 400 and 1000 kg. It can be recognized by its broad body that is grayish brown in colour, the wide stout and long muzzle and fewer armour plates on its neck. The saltwater crocodile can also live in mangrove swamps, estuaries, rivers and lagoons. Being an ambush predator it feeds on reptiles, mammals, birds, crustaceans, fish and is recognized as a ‘Man-eater” making it the most dangerous crocodilian to human beings.

12. Painted Lip Lizard

February 18, 2023 | by Krishan

The Painted lip lizard (Calotes ceylonensis) is a colourful arboreal lizard, endemic to Sri Lanka. It can be recognized by its laterally compressed body, long and slender tail, swollen cheeks and the reddish-orange stripe on the upper lip which turns white on being agitated. This species of lizard is recorded in the semi monsoon forests and other cultivated areas situated in the dry and intermediate zones of the country. Most often it is seen basking on tree trunks and branches waiting for its prey which includes insects, ants and small invertebrates.

12. Wiegmann’s Agama

February 18, 2023 | by Krishan

Wiegmann’s Agama (Otocryptis wiegmanni) also known as the Sri Lankan Kangaroo Lizard is endemic to the wet zone and lower mountain forests of the country. It has a dark reddish brown to dull brown patched slender body with a somewhat large head and hind legs in addition to compelling round eyes. The habitat of the Sri Lankan Kangaroo is mainly leaf dumps where it hunts for insects, larva and grubs and scrambles up trees when it senses danger.

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