Life-history of masked water snakes (Homalopsis buccata) in Java: implications for the sustainability of harvesting

Evy Arida, Noor Laina Maireda, Alamsyah Elang Nusa Herlambang, Mumpuni, Awal Riyanto, Amir Hamidy, Rick Shine, Daniel J. D. Natusch*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Context: Masked water snakes (Homalopsis buccata, Homalopsidae) thrive in the muddy edges of agricultural ponds and canals in densely populated areas of West Java, Indonesia, and are harvested by local farmers to protect fish stocks and to provide meat, skins, and medicines for commercial use.

Aims: Here, we aimed to quantify sexual dimorphism and reproductive biology of H. buccata, so as to deepen our knowledge of the species’ inherent ability to withstand commercial harvests.

Methods: We examined carcasses of 4286 snakes at six processing sites to quantify biological attributes (e.g. sexual dimorphism in body size and shape, seasonality of reproduction, fecundity, reproductive frequency), with emphasis on traits that affect the ability of snake populations to withstand this intensive harvesting.

Key results: The snakes we examined were primarily adults (<1% juvenile), with approximately equal numbers of males and females except in January (when females comprised >90% of specimens). Females grow larger than males, and they are more heavy-bodied but shorter-tailed than are males of the same snout–vent length. Reproduction is seasonal in both sexes, with testis volumes decreasing to a minimum over the period August to November (late dry season) when most adult-size females were gravid. Litter sizes ranged from 1 to 37 (mean 12), increasing with maternal body size, with ~75% of females reproducing each year.

Conclusions: On the basis of these results, we infer that the life history of H. buccata (viviparity, high fecundity, frequent reproduction, rapid maturation) renders it inherently resilient to harvesting, especially because that offtake is based on males as well as females. Because a lack of sustainability is evident only in hindsight, regular monitoring of the trade could assure that any problems are detected rapidly.

Implications: To further buffer these populations from the impact of harvest, hunting could be restricted during January (a time when gravid females are disproportionately vulnerable) and the largest snakes (females, with high fecundity and reproductive frequency) could be excluded from harvests.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberWR23118
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalWildlife Research
Issue number4
Early online date8 Apr 2024
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2024

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2024. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • CITES non-detriment findings
  • harvest
  • Homalopsinae
  • Indonesia
  • offtake
  • population monitoring
  • puff-faced water snake
  • wildlife trade


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