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Sunbeam snake (X. unicolor)
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Xenopeltidae
Bonaparte, 1845
Genus: Xenopeltis
Reinwardt, 1827



Xenopeltis, the sunbeam snakes,[2] are the sole genus of the monotypic family Xenopeltidae, the species of which are found in Southeast Asia. Sunbeam snakes are known for their highly iridescent scales. Three species are recognized, each one with no subspecies.[3] Studies of DNA suggest that the xenopeltids are most closely related to the Mexican burrowing python (Loxocemus bicolor) and to the true pythons (Pythonidae).[4][5]


Illustration of Xenopeltis unicolor

Adults can grow up to 1.3 m (51 in) in length.[6] The head scales are made up of large plates much like those of the Colubridae, while the ventral scales are only slightly reduced. Pelvic vestiges are not present.[7]

The dorsal color pattern is a reddish-brown, brown, or blackish color. The belly is an unpatterned whitish-gray.[8] The scales are highly iridescent.[7]

Geographic range[edit]

They are found in Southeast Asia from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, east through Myanmar to southern China, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Malay Peninsula and the East Indies to Sulawesi, as well as the Philippines.[1]

Behavior and diet[edit]

These snakes are fossorial, spending much of their time hidden. They emerge at dusk to actively forage for frogs, other snakes, and small mammals. They are not venomous, and kill their prey with constriction.[8]


Species[3] Taxon author[3] Common name Geographic range[1]
X. hainanensis Hu & Zhao, 1972 China: from Zhejiang west to Guangxi and south to Hainan Island
X. intermedius Orlov, Snetkov., Ermakov, Nguyen, & Ananjeva, 2022 Vietnam
X. unicolorT Reinwardt, 1827 common sunbeam snake[9] Myanmar (Tenasserim), the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, southern China (Guangdong and Yunnan), Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, West Malaysia, Penang Island, Singapore Island and East Malaysia (Sarawak); in Indonesia, it is found on the islands of the Riau Archipelago, Bangka, Belitung, Sumatra, We, Simalur, Nias, the Mentawai Islands (Siberut), Borneo, Java, and Sulawesi; in the Philippines, it is found on the islands of Balabac, Bongao, Jolo and Palawan

T) Type species.[1]


These snakes are not very commonly kept as pets because of their high mortality rate in captivity. Shipping and the first six months in captivity are very stressful and often kill captive snakes. They also have very little tolerance of handling, with the resulting stress leading to premature death. Captive specimens should be provided with a temperature gradient and an easy to burrow substrate. The cage should be kept warm, but not hot, and they should be left alone.


  1. ^ a b c d e McDiarmid RW, Campbell JA, Touré T. 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. ^ "Xenopeltidae". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 17 August 2007.
  3. ^ a b c "Xenopeltis". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 17 August 2007.
  4. ^ Pyron, R. A.; Reynolds, R. G.; Burbrink, F. T. (2014). "A Taxonomic Revision of Boas (Serpentes: Boidae)" (PDF). Zootaxa. 3846 (2): 249–260. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.3846.2.5. PMID 25112250.
  5. ^ Reynolds, RG; Niemiller, ML; Revell, LJ (2014). "Toward a Tree-of-Life for the boas and pythons: multilocus species-level phylogeny with unprecedented taxon sampling" (PDF). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 71: 201–213. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2013.11.011. PMID 24315866.
  6. ^ Burnie D, Wilson DE. 2001. Animal. London: Dorling Kindersley. 624 pp. ISBN 0-7894-7764-5.
  7. ^ a b Xenopeltidae at the Reptarium.cz Reptile Database. Accessed 3 November 2008.
  8. ^ a b Mehrtens JM. 1987. Living Snakes of the World in Color. New York: Sterling Publishers. 480 pp. ISBN 0-8069-6460-X.
  9. ^ Species Xenopeltis unicolor at The Reptile Database. Accessed 17 August 2007.