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Ramphotyphlops braminus.jpg
Brahminy blind snake,
Ramphotyphlops braminus
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Infraorder: Scolecophidia
Cope, 1864[1]

See text

The Scolecophidia, commonly known as blind snakes or thread snakes,[2] are an infraorder[2] of snakes.[3] They range in length from 10 to 100 cm (3.9 to 39.4 in). All are fossorial (adapted for burrowing).[4] Five families and 39 genera are recognized.[5]



The infraorder name Scolecophidia derives from the two Ancient Greek words σκώληξ or σκώληκος (skṓlēx, genitive skṓlēkos), meaning "earthworm", and ὄφις (óphis), meaning "snake".[6][7] It refers to their shape and fossorial lifestyle.


Family[2] Authority[2] Genera[5] Common name[2] Geographic range[1]
Anomalepididae Taylor, 1939 4 primitive blind snakes Southern Central America and South America
Gerrhopilidae Vidal, Wynn, Donnellan & Hedges, 2010[8] 2 blind snakes India, South-east Asia, Indonesia, Philippines and New Guinea[9]
Leptotyphlopidae Stejneger, 1892 13 slender blind snakes or threadsnakes Africa, western Asia and the Americas
Typhlopidae Merrem, 1820 18 long-tailed blind snakes Most tropical and many subtropical regions all over the world
Xenotyphlopidae Vidal, Vences, Branch & Hedges, 2010[8] 1 blind snakes Madagascar

Biogeographic history[edit]

Scolecophidians are believed to have originated on Gondwana, with anomalepidids and leptotyphlopids evolving in west Gondwana (South America and Africa) and typhlopids, gerrhopilids and xenotyphlopids on east Gondwana, initially on the combined India/Madagascar land mass, during the Mesozoic.[8] Typhlopids then dispersed to Africa and Eurasia. South American typhlopids appear to have evolved from African typhlopids that rafted across the Atlantic about 60 million years ago; they in turn dispersed to the Caribbean about 33 million years ago.[8] Similarly, typhlopids appear to have reached Australia from Southeast Asia or Indonesia about 28 million years ago.[8]

Physical description[edit]

The common name of Scolecophidia, blind snakes, is based on their shared characteristic of reduced eyes that are located under their head scales.[10] These head scales are found in all snakes and is referred to as a spectacle, however within this infraorder it is opaque resulting in decreased visual capabilities.[3] Reduced eyes of the Scolecophidia have been attributed to evolutionary origins of snakes which are hypothesized to have arisen from fossorial ancestors causing a loss of genes related to eyesight that later evolved again in higher snakes to be similar to other vertebrates due to convergent evolution.[10] Other shared characteristics include an absent left oviduct in four of the five families, aside from Anomalepididae which has a well developed yet reduced left oviduct.[3] Aside from this, these snakes range in length from 10 to 100 cm (3.9 to 39.4 inches). Their typical body shapes include slender, cylindrical bodies and small narrow heads.[10] In all these families they either lack or have a vestigial left lung and lack cranial infrared receptors.[3]


The main shared characteristic found across all Scolecophidia is a fossorial nature either living underground or within logs and leaf litter.[3] Aside from this, thus far the reproduction remains understudied with all Scolecophidia studied thus far being noted to be oviparous,[3] with elongate eggs noted in both leptotyphlopids and typhlopids.[11] Foraging behaviors vary across families, but all feed on invertebrates. Some of the main food sources include ant or termite eggs which are tracked down by following chemical cues left by these invertebrates to create trails.[11] Tricheilostomata macrolepis has been seen climbing up trees and waving their head side to side vertically to detect chemical cues in the air in order to locate insect nests.[3] In a study on leptotyphlopidae it was found that some species specialize in eating only termites or ants, aside from this it has been found that some rely on binge feeding patterns while others do not.[3] While these snakes are often difficult to locate due to their burrowing habits, they are more often seen above ground after rain due to flooding that occurs in burrows. The ancestral nature of the Scolecophidia has resulted in the use of these organisms as a model organism for evolutionary studies in Serpentes to better understand evolution of reproduction, morphology, and both feeding habits.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b McDiarmid RW, Campbell JA, Touré TA (1999). Snake Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference, Volume 1. Washington, District of Columbia: Herpetologists' League. 511 pp. ISBN 1-893777-00-6 (series). ISBN 1-893777-01-4 (volume).
  2. ^ a b c d e "Scolecophidia". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 14 August 2007.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Vitt, Laurie J.; Caldwell, Janalee P. (2014). Herpetology: An Introductory Biology of Amphibians and Reptiles (Fourth Edition). Academic Press. pp. 597–603. ISBN 978-0-12-386919-7.
  4. ^ Scolecophidia at Palaeos. Accessed 21 December 2013.
  5. ^ a b Uetz, Peter. "The Reptile Database". The Reptile Database. Retrieved 31 December 2017.
  6. ^ Bailly, Anatole (1981-01-01). Abrégé du dictionnaire grec français. Paris: Hachette. ISBN 978-2010035289. OCLC 461974285.
  7. ^ Bailly, Anatole. "Greek-french dictionary online". Retrieved January 7, 2019.
  8. ^ a b c d e Vidal, Nicolas; et al. (2010). "Blindsnake evolutionary tree reveals long history on Gondwana" (PDF). Biology Letters. 6 (4): 558–561, page 560. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2010.0220. PMC 2936224. PMID 20356885.
  9. ^ Vitt, Laurie J.; Caldwell, Janalee P. (2013). Herpetology: An Introductory Biology of Amphibians and Reptiles. Academic Press. p. 600.
  10. ^ a b c Simões, B. F.; et al. (2015). "Visual system evolution and the nature of the ancestral snake". Journal of Evolutionary Biology. 28 (7): 1309–1320.
  11. ^ a b c Webb, J. K.; Shine, R.; Branch, W. R.; Harlow, P. S. (2000). "Life‐history strategies in basal snakes: reproduction and dietary habits of the African thread snake Leptotyphlops scutifrons (Serpentes: Leptotyphlopidae)" (PDF). Journal of Zoology. 250 (3): 321–327.