The members of the Xenochrophis piscator group are among the most common snake species in the Oriental region, but have a long and confused taxonomic history. Vogel and David (2012) reviewed the complex taxonomic history of the genus Xenochrophis, with a focus on resolving relationships within the Xenochrophis piscator group, the members of which are clearly distinct from other Xenochrophis. Their taxonomic revision of the of Xenochrophis piscator species group was based on univariate analyses of external morphological characters of snakes from across the group’s geographic range (the authors state that complementary molecular phylogenetic analyses are planned). Vogel and David (2012) includes an extensive analysis of historical synonyms, with many photographs, and details what the authors recognize as valid taxa.
On a purely morphological basis, Vogel and David distinguish two informal groups of species:
- the Xenochrophis piscator complex, which includes species with a nuchal (neck) marking either absent or resembling an inverted-V when seen from above. This complex is composed of X. piscator, X. asperrimus, X. cf. piscator (Sri Lanka), and X. schnurrenbergeri. The latter taxon has a wide, straight nuchal bar, but is referred to this complex on the basis of its overall pattern and its geographic range.
- the X. flavipunctatus complex, with species having a V-like nuchal marking. This complex includes X. flavipunctatus, X. tytleri and X. melanzostus. Vogel and David (2012) provide maps showing the general distributions of these species as well as many color photographs of living specimens. The authors address the question of whether certain taxa deserve recognition as full species by examining whether the forms remain distinct in sympatry.
According to Vogel and David (2012), the genus Xenochrophis now includes the following 12 species: X. asperrimus (Boulenger, 1891), X. bellula (Stoliczka, 1871), X. cerasogaster (Cantor, 1839; type species of the genus Xenochrophis by monotypy), X. flavipunctatus (Hallowell, 1861), X. maculatus (Edeling, 1864), X. melanzostus(Gravenhorst, 1807), X. piscator (Schneider, 1799), X. punctulatus (Günther, 1858), X. schnurrenbergeri Kramer, 1977, X. tytleri (Blyth, 1863), X. trianguligerus (Boie, 1827), and X. vittatus (Linnaeus, 1758).
Vogel and David note that revisions of snake genera from the Oriental region in recent years have generally revealed considerable previously unrecognized diversity and that this pattern is likely to continue. They, further, suggest that revisions of widely distributed genera often cannot be carried out by native herpetologists by themselves because most of the preserved material (and older literature) is dispersed over collections in western countries, but that native workers have the advantage of conducting fieldwork more easily. Thus, general revisions such as Vogel and David (2012) can offer local herpetologists a framework for undertaking regional revisions based on fresh materials collected from selected localities.
(Vogel and David 2012 and references therein)
Vogel and Han-Yuen (2010) described an incidentsof death-feigning (or thanatosis) by Xenochrophis piscator, apparently only the second report of death-feigning by this species (this behavior was previously reported by MacDonal  for snakes of this species confronted with a mongoose).
- MacDonald, A. St. J. 1947. Shamming death. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 47: 173.
- Vogel, G. and H.K. Han-Yuen. 2010. Death feigning behavior in three colubrid species of tropical Asia. Russian Journal of Herpetology 17(1): 15-21.
- Vogel, G. and P. David. 2012.A revision of the species group of Xenochrophis piscator (Schneider, 1799) (Squamata: Natricidae), Zootaxa 3473: 1–60.
Distribution: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India (Maharashtra, Arunachal Pradesh (Siddi (=Gandhigram), Deban – Changlang district, Van Vihar, Chessa, Chimpu, Itanagar – Papum Pare district) [A. Captain, pers. comm.], Assam (Guwahati), West Bengal( Kolkata, 24 Pargana, Medinipur), Goa, Uttar Pradesh( Varanasi ), Meghalaya (Khasi Hills, Garo Hills) , Orissa(Baripada, Balasore) Manipur (Domba) [J. Purkayastha, pers. comm.]) Burma, Thailand, Laos [HR 30: 175], Vietnam, West Malaysia, Singapore, China (Chekiang, Jiangxi, Fujian, Guangdong, Nan Ao Island, Hainan, Guangxi, Yunnan), Taiwan, Indonesia (Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Celebes = Sulawesi) melanzostus: Indonesia (Borneo [?], Java, Sulawesi [?]; Sumatra); India (Andaman and Nicobar Islands). piscator (Schneider, 1799): Bangladesh; Bhutan; India; Nepal (elevation below 700 m),Myanmar; Pakistan; People's Republic of China (including Hainan); Sri Lanka; Taiwan; Thailand.
Type locality: “East indies”
This snake's eyes are rather small, and shorter than its distance from the nostril in the adult. Its rostral scale is visible from above. The internasal scales are much narrowed anteriorly and subtriangular, with the anterior angle truncated and as long as the prefrontal scales. The frontal scale is longer than its distance from the end of the snout, and as long as the parietals or a little shorter. The loreal is nearly as long as it is deep. There is one preocular and three (rarely four) post-oculars. Its temporals are 2+2 or 2+3. There are normally nine upper labials, with the fourth and fifth entering the eye and five lower labials in contact with the anterior chin-shields, which are shorter than the posterior. Scales are arranged in 19 rows, strongly keeled, with outer rows smooth. Ventrals are at 125–158, anal divided, with subcaudals at 64–90. Coloration is very variable, consisting of dark spots arranged quincuncially and often separated by a whitish network, or of black longitudinal bands on a pale ground, or of dark cross bands, with or without whitish spots. Two oblique black streaks, one below and the other behind the eye, are nearly constant, lower parts white, with or without black margins to the shields.
This snake is found in or near freshwater lakes or rivers. It feeds mainly on small fish and water frogs.
The species is found in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, West Malaysia, China (Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Fujian, Guangdong, Hainan, Guangxi, Yunnan), Taiwan, and Indonesia (Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Celebes = Sulawesi)
type locality: "East Indies"
- X. p. melanzostus: Indonesia (Borneo [?], Java, Sulawesi [?]; Sumatra), India (Andaman and Nicobar Islands)
- X. p. piscator (Schneider, 1799): Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Pakistan, People's Republic of China (including Hainan), Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and Thailand
- Assamese – dhoora saap
- Bengali - ঢোঁড়া সাপ
- Oriya - ଧଣ୍ଡ ସାପ
- Gujarati – dendu saap
- Hindi – Dendu saap
- Indonesia - Bandotan tutul
- Kannada - ನೀರು ಹಾವು
- Marathi - दिवड
- Malayalam - നീർക്കോലി
Gallery for identification characteristics
- Boulenger, G.A. (1890) Fauna of British India. Reptilia and Batrachia.
- N. B. Ananjeva and N. L. Orlov 1994. "Caudal Autotomy in Colubrid Snake Xenochrophis piscator From Vietnam" Russian Journal of Herpetology 1(2)
- Dutt, Kalma 1970 Chromosome Variation in Two Populations of Xenochrophis piscator Schn. from North and South India (Serpentes, Colubridae). Cytologia 35: pp. 455–464
- Schneider, J. G., 1799 Historiae Amphibiorum narturalis et literariae. Fasciculus primus, continens Ranas. Calamitas, Bufones, Salamandras et Hydros. Jena, 266 S.
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