West Papua is known for the sheer variety of beautiful natural ecosystems. These ecosystems have a diversity of flora and fauna that never cease to amaze. The Papuan white snake is one of the eighty-three snake species found in Papua regions.
A study from IPB states that the Papuan white snake (Micropechis ikaheka), commonly known as the Ikaheka snake, is one of the most venomous snakes in the world. It is a medically important venomous snake, and there are a lot more interesting facts about this amazing snake.
Naming and Characteristics
The taxonomy of the Papuan white snake, Micropechis ikaheka, is inspired by the local West Papuan dialect. Ikaheka means “land eel,” indicating that the locals often encounter the Papuan white snakes in damp places.
Even if they are still terrestrial animals, they prefer semi-aquatic habitats such as swamps, riversides, wetlands, creeks, rainforests, and the wet areas of plantations.
The Papuan white snake is part of the Elapidae family, the family of venomous snakes endemic to tropical and subtropical regions. They have erected fangs in front of the mouth and reared upwards heads while spreading neck-flap when facing threats.
Another common characteristics of the Ikaheka snake are its tiny eyes. That is why people refer to these snakes as “small-eyed snakes.” Also, the name “white snake” comes from the pale light body color, which contrasts with their dark head and red-brown body rings.
Additionally, they have a thick body, smooth scale, and can grow slightly more than 2 meters long.
Distribution and Diets
The Papuan white snake was first found in Papua New Guinea in 1829. As for now, there are reports of finding these snakes in some areas of Papua and West Papua. Even some in satellite islands such as Misool in Raja Ampat Islands, Aru, Yapen, Batanta, Waigea, and Salawati.
The study shows that these snakes’ zoogeography locations affect different pattern color variations. There are three recognized patterns; black, brown, and yellow.
This pattern appears as pigmentation on the top of the mostly-white skin scales layer of the Papuan white snake. So the patterns do not occur evenly in the whole skin area, mostly only in the head and tail parts.
Other studies examine 22 samples of Papuan white snake. The result shows that this species is preying on reptiles, mammals, fish, and amphibians. The study also indicates that this snake sometimes goes into the water to hunt for fish and eel.
Are They Dangerous for Humans?
Of course, looking at how venomous the Papuan white snake is, it can be a dangerous threat to humans. But in fact, they are naturally shy. They only become aggressive and potentially attack humans when disturbed or threatened.
In this term, fatal cases can happen unpredictably. For example, people accidentally step on the snakes while moving palm husk piles, walking on plantation tracks, or cutting grass where the snakes lay around during the day.
On the other hand, fatal cases involving Papuan white snakes also happen when people purposely carry out activities to catch or even try to keep Ikaheka snakes.
Local people in West Papua, Papua, and Papua New Guinea are already aware that these snakes are poisonous, so they just avoid contact and keep them in their natural habitat.
Until now, ecological experts keep reminding people not to hunt or try to catch Papuan white snakes. Moreover, until now, no anti-venom has been found for this white Papuan snake venom. So, there is no need to put lives at stake, and the existence of snakes is also important for the ecosystem. Let’s keep it that way!