The yellow snake, or the Jamaican boa, as the name suggests is a native of Jamaica. It is a benign and beneficial snake, whose numbers are declining rapidly due to human interference.
The Jamaican yellow snake or the Jamaican boa is a species indigenous to Jamaica, and is the largest snake found on the island. This black and yellow snake can attain lengths of 8 feet and happens to be the largest native predator in Jamaica. However, the average length of these snakes is about 6.5 feet.
A typical boa features a golden yellow or orange to reddish brown coloration at the front end, with the coloration being darker on the back as well as the sides and belly. This background color is dabbled with black spots, which get denser down the body, forming irregular dark bands. Moreover, the top of the head is generally gray or olive green, with black stripes behind the yellow eyes. The tail is generally black, however, in some cases may be completely yellow. These snakes are also known as ‘yellow snakes’, ‘nanka’, etc. The male yellow snakes are larger than females. The scientific name of the Jamaican Boa is Epicrates subflavus, and its scientific classification is as follows:
Distribution and Habitat
This primitive kind of snake is a close relative of the African and South Asian python, and is found only in the Caribbean island of Jamaica. The yellow snake resides in a variety of habitats such as montane and humid tropical forests, woodland, mangroves, swampland, and dry limestone scrub forest. They are also observed dwelling in caves, rock crevices, dense foliage, underground burrows, and trees. These snakes are nocturnal and remain in hiding during the day.
The Jamaican yellow boa has strong arboreal habits, thus spends quite a lot of time up in the trees. However, it is also observed looking for prey at ground level. They are also found lying on rocks to warm up in the mornings, and are found venturing out in search of water during dry weather. They usually feed on rodents, native birds, and bats.
The boa hangs its tail from the roofs of caves, and waits for a bat to fly by. When it does, it grabs the bat from the air and devours it. Like the other boa constrictors, this snake is non-venomous and kills its prey via constriction. It detects the prey using its forked tongue, and uses its needle-like sharp teeth to get a firm grip over the prey. It then coils over the prey’s body, thereby suffocating it to death. Once the prey is dead, the boa uses its teeth and throat muscles to swallow the prey.
It is believed that changes in temperature, day length, and rainfall stimulate breeding pattern in yellow snakes, generally between the months of February and April. The male Jamaican yellow snakes compete with each other for a chance to court the female. Each of them release a ‘pheromone’ or distinctive scent, and the one whose scent is the most desirable to the female is given the privilege to mate with her. Female boas produce eggs, however, they retain them in the body for 6-7 months, wherein they hatch into young ones. The female can deliver 5-44 babies in a single go, depending on her size. After giving birth to the babies, the female plays no part in their lives.
The Jamaican boa which was once commonly found across the island, has suffered decline in numbers due to the 16th century colonization by the Europeans. They introduced predators such as mongoose, pigs, domestic cats, etc., to the island which spearheaded the decline of the yellow snake found in Jamaica. Jamaican natives also hunted down scores of boas fearing the snakes to be poisonous. Moreover, clearing of land, burning of cane fields, and mining of bauxite has also lead to their decline. The Jamaican boa today faces a high risk of extinction within the next 100 years, and is classified as ‘Vulnerable’ on the Red Data List, by the World Conservation Union.
Jamaican boas are non-poisonous and are not a threat to humans. In fact, of all the different types of snakes, such as the yellow rat snake, etc., these yellow snakes are beneficial to humans, especially farmers. These snakes feed on rats, which otherwise damage crops. It is sad to see this harmless and beneficial animal being persecuted.