Tiger Keelback Fact File

Rhabdophis tigrinus

Credit: Alpsdake, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons













Conservation Status


Least Concern

The tiger keelback is one of the few species in the world which are both venomous and poisonous. They can store toxins from their prey which can be used to defend them.

These animals are carnivores which will seek out toads and other amphibians to feed on.

Females lay eggs with one record clutch having included 46 eggs.

Unfortunately this species faces ongoing threats including habitat loss and capture for the pet trade or use in traditional medicines.

Read on to learn more about these radical reptiles.


What does the tiger keelback look like?

Across the top of their body the scales of the tiger keelback are colored olive green with yellow on the underside of their body. Along the sides of their body are orange spots with black markings in rows along the back.

An average tiger keelback will measure 0.7-1.2m (2.25-ft) long and weigh 60-800g (2-28.25oz). Females tend to be slightly larger than males.


What does the tiger keelback eat?

Tiger keelbacks are carnivores. They feed on amphibians such as toads, frogs, tadpoles and fish. Prey items can be larger than their head due to their ability to extend their jaw.

Their prey items are the source of the toxins which they use to make their poison.

Tiger Keelback (Rhabdophis tigrinus)

Credit: Alpsdake, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons


Where can you find the tiger keelback?

Asia is the native home of the tiger keelback. Here they can be found in China, Japan, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Republic of Korea and Russia.

Records of the species have been made in error from Thailand and Viet Nam. It is widely accepted that these reports are incorrect but further research is required to confirm no populations are present in Viet Nam.


What kind of environment does the tiger keelback live in?

These animals are found in semi-aquatic habitats. This is primarily due to this being the habitat of their prey species which is primarily amphibians.

Habitats they can be found in include flooded grassland, rivers, wetlands, ditches and paddy fields. They may also be found on moist grassland on mountain slopes.

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How does the tiger keelback produce its young?

Breeding takes place from June to August.

A female will lay between two and forty eggs. One record clutch had a total of 46 eggs. They hatch after 30-45 days.


What does the tiger keelback do with its day?

These animals are active during the day.

Tiger Keelback (Rhabdophis tigrinus)

Credit: Alpsdake, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Predators and Threats

What is impacting the survival of the tiger keelback?

Juvenile tiger keelbacks come with toxins pre-loaded from their parents. It is passed through the egg yolk from their mother.

They are one of the few known species which are both venomous and poisonous. Their venom is delivered through fangs at the rear of the mouth. The poison is stored in glands on the neck and absorbed from the toads which they feed on.

In areas where they do not have toads to consume they may not be as poisonous. These individuals are more likely to flee if threatened by a predator. This is one of the few examples of a species being able to recognize how toxic it is.

When humans are bitten it prevents coagulation of the blood causing excessive bleeding. This can be stopped through the use of an antivenom. As with all snake bites you should seek medical treatment.

This species is considered common and their population is recognized as being stable.

Some threats are faced by the species including collection for the pet trade and poaching for the traditional medicine trade. They are also used to produce snake liquor.

They are also affected by becoming road kill.

Quick facts

They may also be known as the black-banded keelback, Japanese water snake or the Yamakagashi.

This species was first described for western science in 1826.

Some authorities recognize a subspecies from Taiwan which is referenced as Rhabdophis tigrinus formosanus.

The tigrinus portion of their scientific name is taken from the Latin for 'tiger like.'

Tiger Keelback (Rhabdophis tigrinus)

Credit: KKPCW, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons


Ambrose, J., 2015. Wildlife Of The World. 1st ed. London: Dorling Kindersley

Borkin, L., Orlov, N.L., Milto, K., Golynsky, E., Ota, H., Kidera, N., Nguyen, T.Q. & Borzee, A. 2021. Rhabdophis tigrinusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2021: e.T191942A2018809. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2021-2.RLTS.T191942A2018809.en. Accessed on 26 December 2021.

Butler, R., 2021. Snake becomes poisonous by eating toxic frogs. [online] Mongabay Environmental News. Available at: <https://news.mongabay.com/2007/01/snake-becomes-poisonous-by-eating-toxic-frogs/> [Accessed 26 December 2021].

Newscientist.com. 2021. This snake knows how toxic it is and fights only when armed | New Scientist. [online] Available at: <https://www.newscientist.com/article/2149529-this-snake-knows-how-toxic-it-is-and-fights-only-when-armed/> [Accessed 26 December 2021].

The Reptile Database. 2021. Rhabdophis tigrinus. [online] Available at: <https://reptile-database.reptarium.cz/species?genus=Rhabdophis&species=tigrinus> [Accessed 26 December 2021].

2021. Rhabdophis tigrinus. [online] Available at: <https://www.mindat.org/taxon-2452268.html> [Accessed 26 December 2021].

Toxinology.com. 2021. WCH Clinical Toxinology Resources. [online] Available at: <http://www.toxinology.com/fusebox.cfm?fuseaction=main.snakes.display&id=SN0002> [Accessed 26 December 2021].

Taylor & Francis. 2021. Rhabdophis tigrinus IN JAPAN: PATHOGENESIS OF ENVENOMATION AND PRODUCTION OF ANTIVENOM. [online] Available at: <https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1081/TXR-120004746?journalCode=itxr19> [Accessed 26 December 2021].

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