Life-history strategies in basal snakes: reproduction and dietary habits of the African thread snake Leptotyphlops scutifrons (Serpentes: Leptotyphlopidae)

Jonathan K. Webb*, Richard Shine, William R. Branch, Peter S. Harlow

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


Information on the biology of 'primitive' blind snakes can help clarify the origin of ecological traits typical of 'higher' snakes. We examined and dissected 360 museum specimens to obtain information on morphology, dietary habits, and reproduction of two subspecies of an African thread snake, Leptotyphlops s. scutifrons and L. s. conjunctus. These small (to 225 mm long), slender-bodied (body diameters < 5 mm) burrowing snakes are common throughout southern Africa. In both subspecies, females grow larger than males and have relatively shorter tails. Reproduction is seasonal, with vitellogenesis in spring (October), oviposition in summer (December-February), and hatching in autumn (April-May). Clutch sizes are small (1-3 eggs), and hatchling thread snakes are large relative to maternal body size. Despite the abundance of termites on the African continent, L. scutifrons feeds almost entirely on the larvae and pupae of small ants. Both races fed infrequently, and took large numbers of prey (up to 350 items) in a single meal. A shift from 'lizard-like' to 'snake-like' trophic biology is evident within the Scolecophidia: two species of North American thread snake feed frequently on a taxonomically diverse array of small prey; African L. scutifrons feed infrequently on small prey, but take large meals composed of numerous prey items; and one highly derived Melanesian typhlopid (Acutyphlops subocularis) feeds infrequently on large elongate prey. In contrast to popular theory, our data suggest that the evolutionary shift to infrequent feeding among snakes did not initially require a change from small to large prey.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)321-327
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Zoology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Feeding
  • Leptotyphlops scutifrons
  • Myrmecophagy
  • Reproduction
  • Sexual dimorphism
  • Snakes


Dive into the research topics of 'Life-history strategies in basal snakes: reproduction and dietary habits of the African thread snake Leptotyphlops scutifrons (Serpentes: Leptotyphlopidae)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this