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  Text and photos by Nick Baker, unless otherwise credited.
Copyright ゥ Ecology Asia 2018


Fire-lipped Keelback

Species : Rhabdophis murudensis
Maximum Size : 87 cm

The Fire-lipped Keelback, or Gunung Murud Keelback, inhabits primary forest in montane areas of northern Borneo. It ranges from around 915 to 2500 metres elevation. Inger et al (1996) stated that the highest recorded reptile on Mount Kinabalu, at a height of 2200 metres, was this snake.

This handsome species is identified by the brightly coloured supralabials (the scales above the lips) which are yellow to orange-red : this colour also extends to the chin and lower part of the snout.

The upper parts of the body are brown, with faint dark crossbars. In the posterior two-thirds of the body the crossbars are enhanced with faint yellowish crossbars on the flanks. The underside is yellowish-grey with dark spots.

The head is elongate and wider than the relatively thick, cylindrical body, and the scales are strongly keeled. The eye is brown, moderate in size with a round iris.

When disturbed this snake will sometimes raise its head a few centimetres from the ground, and inflate its neck to reveal bright reddish skin between the scales. This posture also exposes the nuchal glands on the back of the neck, which contain toxic secretions.

The species reportedly feeds on frogs, but little else is known of its ecology.

The Fire-lipped Keelback is recorded from the Malaysian states of Sarawak (where it was first described at Gunung Murud in 1925) and Sabah, on the island of Borneo.

Figs 1 and 2 : Specimen from Gunung Alab in the Crocker Range, Sabah, Borneo at an elevation of around 1600-1700 metres. The snake was warming itself in the morning sun on a bed of moss.

Fig 3 : Side profile of the head showing the brightly coloured lips and neck.

Fig 4 : Close-up of the keeled body scales, and typical faint barring.

All photos thanks to Remco Hofland

References : H4

Stuebing, R. B., Tan, F. L., 2002. Notes on the Fire-lipped Keelback Rhabdophis murudensis (Smith 1925) (Ophidia : Colubridae : Natricinae) from Northern Borneo. The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology 50(1): 227-230.










Fig 1
ゥ  Remco Hofland
Fig 2
ゥ  Remco Hofland
Fig 3
ゥ  Remco Hofland
Fig 4
ゥ  Remco Hofland