COVID 19 UPDATE: During this time of lockdown, people are spending more time at home, and are therefore more likely to spot snakes. Adding extra lighting at night may help to keep snakes away. Properties (hotels, villas, restaurants, private houses, etc.) that have been left empty because the owners have temporarily relocated, or there is no one to rent the property, should be carefully checked for snakes and other animals that may have moved in because it is quiet.
Although you may not see them, snakes are very much part of the landscape – and seascape – of Bali! They are often found on the coastal lowlands and around the hills inland, although the numbers decrease when more than 1000m above sea level. Snakes were here long before humans arrived, and come into increasing contact with people as we take over their former homes. Like many other animals, snakes survive mostly in the river valleys where there are less people, but are beginning to move into rice fields, gardens and built up areas to find food. Many Bali residents like to have open plan houses and ‘jungle’ gardens that snakes, and other wildlife, find attractive.
Snakes do not want to bite people, or anything they cannot eat. You don’t have to like snakes – but if you are alert to their presence, leave them alone when seen, and take positive action like calling an expert snake catcher, no one will get hurt.
There are nearly 50 different species of land snakes in Bali, and a further 18 species of sea snakes, each with one or more colour variations. This makes them difficult to identify. It is therefore better to treat all snakes you see with great respect. People are more likely to be bitten by a snake when they are not looking where they are stepping in thick vegetation, or at night and in poorly lit areas.
Venomous Snakes in Bali
Here is a series of photos and short descriptions of the most venomous snakes in Bali.
Please do not rely on these photos alone for identification, each type of snake has one or more colour variations. The snake you see will not necessarily look like any of the ones in the photos, but it might still be dangerous! Scientific names are included because they are much more reliable for identification and less confusing than common or local names.
Island Pit Viper/Ular Hijau/Lipi Gadang (Trimeresurus Insularis)
A common snake from the coasts to about 1000m, the Island Pit Viper (Trimeresurus insularis) is light – or dark – green. It has a wide arrow-shaped head with red eyes, a narrow neck, a rather short fat body (less than 1m), and a characteristic short red tail which distinguishes it from other green snakes in Bali. It is active at night, and descends from its hiding place in a tree or wall, where it sits on the ground – and could potentially be stepped on. During the day it can hide in low bushes – which is why it is important not to walk through tall vegetation, and to cut overhanging plants back to well above head height along paths.
This is the snake that most commonly bites people and potentially causes a lot of tissue damage, sometimes death. The bite causes immediate pain, and in severe cases the local swelling soon spreads to the rest of the body. The venom destroys the tissues and causes internal bleeding. If left untreated, the bitten limb may need to be amputated. There is no anti-venom in Indonesia to treat bites from this snake, but doctors can still help to reduce pain and swelling, as well as monitoring vital signs.
The good news is that many Viper bites are warning bites or ‘dry’, containing little or no venom (the snake does not want to waste its venom on animals it cannot eat!). Unlike the bites from Cobras and Kraits, the effects spread much more slowly and a bite victim can survive for several days before dying. But, as with all snakebites, immediate hospitalisation is still advised. The sooner the victim is hospitalised, the less damage is done and chances of survival increase significantly.
Other green snakes which are non-venomous include –
- the Vine snake (Ahaetulla prasina) which is very thin and all green;
- the Red-Tailed Racer (Gonyosoma oxycephalum) which has a grey tail;
- and the Olive Coloured Bronzeback snake (Dendrelaphis pictus) which has a red tongue.
These three kinds of snakes are all active during the day.
Spitting Cobra/Ular Sendok/Lipi Uoh (Naja Sputatrix)
The Spitting Cobra (Naja sputatrix) is widely distributed in Bali. It is highly venomous, however, fortunately there is anti-venom available in some hospitals to treat bites from this snake. Besides having a venomous bite, it can also spray venom from its fangs up to 1.5- 2m. (4 -7 ft). The colour is very variable, from light cream through light brown, dark brown and dark olive. All black Spitting Cobras are found in Java, but not in Bali.
Unlike many other types of Cobra in other countries, Spitting Cobras here are reluctant to sit up and spread their hoods in typical Cobra style. When the hood is not extended, they look like many other snakes. When trapped, restrained, or otherwise threatened, this cobra will sit up, spread its hood, spray venom and bite.
The Spitting Cobra is a generalist feeder and eats rodents, birds, lizards, toads and other snakes. It is usually active around midday to 3pm, but sometimes they will still be out and about at dusk, or even just after dark.
Pets – especially dogs and cats – can be sprayed in the eyes by these Cobras if they get too close. They will immediately experience stinging of the eyes and then roll around in the grass in an effort to reduce the irritation. The eyes should be rinsed out with running water for 30 minutes but not rubbed!
Similar species: as the Spitting Cobra has no clear markings and does not always sit up and show its hood, it can easily be mistaken for other non-venomous snakes such as the Rat snake (Ptyas korros) which has a much longer thinner body and tail.
Blue Krait/Ular Weling/Lipi Poleng (Bungarus Candidus)
The Blue Krait (Bungarus Candidus) is the most venomous land snake in Bali. It is not blue. It has either black rings and dirty white rings of equal width, or is all one colour: shiny black, light or dark brown, orange brown, mottled black with irregular white markings, or greyish (when about to shed its skin). The wide variability in colour and markings of this snake makes it difficult to identify, and it is easily mistaken for a non-venomous snake. It has a characteristic row of much larger scales along its spine. The neck is not much narrower than the head, and the tail narrows quickly and is relatively short.
Kraits are nocturnal, coming out especially after rain, and often very late at night. They slowly patrol walls and banks, looking for burrows in which other snakes, lizards and rodents are sleeping. Kraits dislike bright lights and will try to move away from them, sometimes hiding their heads under their bodies. They can strike sideways, upwards and forwards very quickly. People who sleep on mats on the floor are often victims to Krait bites, which can be very serious although initially the victim may feel little or no pain. There is no anti-venom to treat a bite from a Blue Krait, although the victim may survive if kept on a ventilator for up to a week to assist breathing.
Banded Krait/Ular Welang/Lipi Poleng (Bungarus fasciatus)
The Banded Krait (Bungarus Fasciatus) is highly venomous, and similar to the Blue Krait, with a clearly ridged backbone and a row of large scales. It has a blunt tail, and can grow up to nearly 2m (6ft) long. The Banded Krait appears to be a more recent introduction to Bali, probably from Java, and is rarer than the Blue Krait.
It is found along the edges of rice fields, where it hunts on other snakes and lizards. It is usually active very late at night when most people are asleep. The Krait moves slowly along the ground, and is not a very good climber, only climbing rough walls and low vegetation. It can strike sideways in an arc with great speed.
Throughout Asia, people are bitten by Kraits because they are sleeping on mats on the ground. It is much safer to sleep off the ground on a bed frame with a mosquito net tucked in. Limited supplies of anti-venom are available for treating bites from this snake. The venom affects the victims breathing very quickly so it is vital to immobilise the limb with splints and get the patient to hospital as quickly as possible.
Banded Sea Krait/Ular Laut (Laticauda colubrina)
The Banded Sea Krait is a highly venomous sea snake that will come onto land to lay its eggs in rocky crevices. It is regarded as a ‘sacred snake’, and can sometimes be seen hiding in the small caves around the Tanah Lot temple (where one could once see them in large numbers).
It has black and grey bands of equal width along the whole length of the body and tail. It is often confused with land Kraits, but has a flat paddle-shaped tail that helps it swim. Sea Kraits are frequently seen swimming in shallow waters by swimmers, snorkelers and divers. These snakes feed on eels that they hunt on the reefs.
They are relatively docile snakes and are reluctant to bite, which has led to a belief that they will not bite. Another myth is that, because their mouths are so small, they cannot bite a human. Both myths are untrue – the Sea Krait will bite and hang on if stepped on, held or restrained. It is believed that the fishermen who are bitten by this, and other sea snakes, may not have enough time to get to shore and receive treatment, which may be one reason why bite records are lacking.
Similar species: several kinds of land snakes also have bands, but they lack the paddle-shaped tail that is characteristic of sea snakes. Snakes of all kinds are generally good swimmers.
Asian Coral Snake (Calliophis intestinalis)
Asian Coral Snakes are highly venomous but are rarely seen in Bali because they are very small (less than 35cm long) and they burrow in soil and hide under leaf litter. They have a thin orange line along the back, which forks into a ‘Y” behind the head. The underside of the dark brown or black body has black and white bands, and the underside of the tail is red with black bands.
No bites from this snake have been recorded in Bali to date. They feed on very small hatchling snakes and lizards and may be seen after heavy rains flush them out of the ground. They seem to prefer living at higher elevations (above 100m ASL). There is no anti-venom to treat a bite from this snake.
King Cobra/Ular Raja (Ophiophagus Hannah)
The King Cobra is the world’s longest venomous snake, reaching lengths of over 5m. It looks very different from the smaller Spitting Cobra, which has no obvious markings. Young King Cobras are almost black with white-ish diagonal stripes down the body, and the underside is off-white. Adult King Cobras have pale broken diagonal stripes on an olive or brown background along the whole body to the tail. The hood of the King Cobra is longer and narrower than that of the Spitting Cobra. The adult King Cobra can grow up to 5m, but in Bali tends to be shorter, reaching more than 3m in length.
King Cobras have so far been found mainly in West Bali (Negara), particularly in bamboo groves. However, captive hatching and releases of many young cobras may be causing them to spread further east.
There is no anti-venom in Indonesia for treating King Cobra bites. The King Cobra is considered to be one of the more ‘intelligent’ species of snakes, and is reluctant to bite or inject large quantities of venom unless restrained and severely stressed. For this reason, King Cobra ‘shows’ are popular in Indonesia, where captive animals get used to handling, and are brought into an open area for visitors to take selfies with them. The free-handling of King Cobras (without proper equipment) in social media has led to many young people trying to copy what they see, then being bitten and dying as a result of the bite.
With the rapid increase of snake-keeping as a hobby, many kinds of snakes – including American Rattlesnakes and Anacondas, are being imported by dealers for the pet trade. Inevitably, some of these snakes escape or are just released, so it becomes increasingly likely that people will encounter a snake that is not from Bali or even Indonesia. Given the lack of anti-venom to treat bites for local venomous snakes, the keeping of dangerous species from other countries poses another potential threat.
Other Local Snakes
There are at least 46 different kinds of land snakes in Bali, each with one or more colour variations, so many look very similar to each other. Identification is not easy, and mistakes are common. This has important safety implications, the best thing to do with any snake is to leave it alone, take some photos and send them to a snake expert for identification. Some of these snakes are also mildly venomous but generally cause no reactions if they bite humans.
If you are new to Bali –
- Be aware that Bali is a tropical island where snakes and other kinds of ‘dangerous’ wildlife live.
- Do your homework – try to find out what species of animals live on the island, and what to do if you come into contact with a dangerous species
- If you move into an open-plan house with an overgrown garden and a pond or pool, you can expect snakes and other wild animals to visit.
- Be prepared to do some simple snake-proofing to reduce the chances of snakes and other animals coming in.
- Search for the nearest hospital or clinic that can treat a snakebite, as well as bites and stings from other animals and plants.
- Have a snakebite first aid kit handy, and some post emergency numbers for snake identification, removal and treatment.
- People with dogs or cats can preemptively contact their vet to see if they can treat a snakebite. Pets are likely to be very alert in the presence of snakes – barking or exhibiting some unusual behaviour. Dogs and cats that are not used to snakes may try to approach them. Treatment can be expensive, and survival depends on the speed of the treatment post-bite, type of bite and many other factors.
NOTE: Some kinds of snakes are active in the day, and others come out at night. Snake activity times tend to be fairly predictable in nature, but if a snake is in a house or garden it may hide, and when discovered be active at any time of day or night. Snakes are often active during, or just after rain when they are flooded out of their burrows. They can also active during dry season looking for a drink of water.
If you see a snake –
- Do not disturb it. Stand still, do not run away. Back away slowly, it will not chase you.
- Watch where it goes. Do not let it go out of your sight.
- Inform everyone around you that there is a snake in the vicinity.
- Do not try to catch or kill the snake, this is when bites can happen.
- Take a photo (2M or 7ft is a safe distance away). Snakes are harder to identify from videos.
- Call a professional snake catcher who will come fully equipped with the necessary tools. No one should hold the snake in their hands.
If someone is bitten by a snake –
Before anyone is bitten – ask at your nearest hospital or clinic whether they can treat a snakebite. Many medical centres will often refuse to treat a snakebite victim because they do not have the facilities or expertise. Do not expect a medical centre to have anti-venom!
The key points to snakebite first aid (from the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations, and specifically for Bali) are as follows:
- Stay calm! Tell the bitten person not to panic, and they will survive.
- Keep the bitten limb as still as possible by immobilising it with splints on each side of the limb.
- Do not use an immobilisation pressure bandage, especially with bites from vipers and cobras – it will cut off the blood supply when the bitten limb swells.
- The bitten person must stay still and move as little as possible.
- Do not cut or suck the bite. Do not apply a tourniquet or any creams, medicines or other substances to the bite.
- Avoid going to a traditional healer.
- Do not give the bitten person any food or drink as this may cause vomiting.
- Take the bitten person to hospital as soon as possible after the bite. Each minute counts. Do not rely on an ambulance to pick up the patient.
- Note the number of Dr. Tri Maharani, Indonesian’s best snakebite specialist. You can give it to the doctor to call. She will advise treatment based on the symptoms described by the doctor.
Dr Maharani’s contact number is – (+62) 853 3403 0409
- If possible, take photos of the snake that bit the person. They will be useful in deciding which treatment is needed. Do not waste time looking for the snake or trying to catch it.
- Tell of the doctor of any pre-existing medical conditions, or medicines being taken.
- Snakebite treatment can be very basic in Indonesian hospitals, it can also be very expensive. Make sure to have any insurance papers ready, or cash to pay for treatment. The patient will have to stay in hospital for at least 48 hours for observation.
For more information and photos of snakes in Bali you can visit Ron Lilley’s Bali Snake Patrol page on Facebook.
Ron is an expert on snakes and gives talks to the public and schools about snake safety, snake-proofing, snakebites and other information about local wildlife.
If you see a snake and want to know what it is, please send him a photo via WhatsApp, and he should be able to identify it for you. Be aware that snakes do come into houses sometimes, especially in the rainy season.
Ron’s advice is for you is to stay aware that there are snakes around. Use a strong, bright light, and watch where you are walking at night.
Ron Lilley’s contact details: Ron Lilley’s Bali Snake Patrol page on Facebook
All enquiries, and photos for identification of snakes and other local wildlife, snake-proofing, talks to schools and to the public, private parties, photo sessions and basic snakebite first aid advice, via Ron’s WhatsApp (+62)(0)813 3849 6700