Snakes in Jamaica: The 7 Known Species You May Encounter

snakes in jamaica
Photo by Sagar Kulkarni on Unsplash
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The tropical Caribbean country of Jamaica is home to a rich and highly diverse range of wildlife, and some of it can do a great deal of harm. But thankfully, unlike the crocodiles or the sharks, the snakes in Jamaica pose little threat to humans.

Though there are several species of snake in Jamaica, none of them are venomous. It’s also very rare for humans to ever come into contact with snakes in Jamaica, as those that do live here tend to be reclusive and mainly active at night. Over the course of several decades, the snake population in Jamaica has been greatly impacted by the spread of human habitation that has severely reduced their natural habitat. The arrival of certain predatory mammals has also affected the number of snakes in Jamaica too. The introduction of the mongoose to Jamaica in 1872 to try and control the rat population has had a particularly devastating effect on the island’s snakes.

Even though the snakes in Jamaica don’t come close to qualifying for the title of the most dangerous animals in the world, they’re still capable of causing a nasty surprise. Here are the seven species of snake you might just encounter on a trip to Jamaica.

Jamaican Boa

A Jamaican Boa snake
TimVickers via Wikimedia Commons

Though it may look like a beast, like all of the snakes on our list, the Jamaican boa is actually pretty harmless. Also known as the yellow snake, the Jamaican boa typically grows up to an impressive six feet long. Endemic to Jamaica (hence the name) the Jamaican boa has a distinctive yellow and black zig-zag pattern along its body. Though the Jamaican Boa is the largest terrestrial predator on the island, it is non-venomous and mainly feeds off lizards, rodents, birds and bats. It captures its prey by staying motionless and camouflaged before pouncing on its unsuspecting victim, biting them with its needle-like teeth before killing it by constriction.

The Jamaican Boa is nocturnal and lives in trees, meaning it’s rare for humans to ever encounter them in the wild. However, their natural habitat has been greatly reduced over many decades and they have been known to venture into urban areas to look for food. When found in urban areas Jamaican Boas are often killed as they’re seen as a treat despite being harmless to humans.

Jamaican Dwarf Boa

dwarf boa
Photo by Pavel Kirillov at Wikimedia

A number of species of dwarf boa live on the island of Jamaica, including the Haitian dwarf boa, the Portland dwarf boa and the Jamaican dwarf boa. Also referred to as wood snakes or thunder snakes, species of dwarf boa are common throughout South and Central America. The Jamaican dwarf boa is nonvenomous and completely harmless to humans.

Reclusive and preferring to live in forests and swamps, the Jamaican dwarf boa grows to a maximum size of only around sixty centimeters, living mainly off a diet of frogs and lizards. Much like the larger Jamaican Boa, the dwarf boa is also under threat due to a loss of its natural habitation and the introduction of predatory mammals such as the mongoose and wild cats. When threatened, the Jamaican dwarf boa’s unnerving form of defense is to instantly bleed from the mouth and nostrils and roll up into a ball.

Grass snake

grass snake
Photo by Sagar Kulkarni on Unsplash

The grass snake is another non-venomous snake that is known to reside in Jamaica, as well as much of the rest of the world. The grass snake usually has a dark green body with a flash of color at the back of the head and typically grows to around seventy centimeters in length. Also completely harmless to humans, the grass snake is sometimes called the water snake as they lives close to ponds, rivers and lakes and are good swimmers. The grass snake’s diet mainly consists of small amphibians, such as frogs and toads.

If threatened the grass snake has a number of tricks up its sleeve. In order to deter attackers, the grass snake will emit a grim odor that is said to smell a lot like garlic. Like the Jamaican dwarf boa, the grass snake can also secrete blood from the mouth and nostrils. They can also fake death, a process called thanatosis. Most predators will only hunt live prey and by playing dead, as well as stinking of garlic, the grass snake can make itself a lot less desirable to hunters.

Jamaican Groundsnake

groundsnake jungle habitat
Photo by Gabo Romay on Unsplash

The Jamaican Groundsnake also goes by the name Jamaican Racer. There are several species of Groundsnake, including the Red Groundsnake and the Long-tailed Groundsnake. Sadly, as is the threat faced by all of Jamaica’s snakes, it is thought that the Black Groundsnake may now be extinct. Like all of Jamaica’s snake species, the population of Groundsnake is known to be in rapid decline. Their natural habitat, mostly on the east coast of Jamaica, is threatened by residential development as well as the expansion of the tourist industry. They’re also commonly hunted by mammals that have been introduced to Jamaica such as the mongoose and feral cats.

Groundsnakes live in moist environments where they can forage for their prey and their diet consists mostly of small frogs and lizards. They are active during the day, which means that they’re more likely to come into contact with humans than nocturnal snakes. They are no threat to humans as they are non-venomous and do not bite.

Jamaican Blind Snake

blind snake
Photo by Thomas Brown at Wikimedia

The Jamaican Blind Snake is probably one of the least lethal animals you could ever wish to encounter. Looking more like a long worm, the Jamaican Blind Snake is the smallest of the island’s snakes. The Jamaican Blind Snake lives mostly underground and can be sometimes be found underneath rocks or logs in various different habitats all across the island. Though they are hard to spot it’s not uncommon to come across them if you start digging around.

As the name suggests, the Jamaican Blind Snake has virtually no power of sight. The two dots they have for eyes are believed to only be able to tell the difference between light and dark. Otherwise almost entirely featureless, the colour of the Jamaican Blind Snake can vary from grey, brown and pink. Of all of the snakes in Jamaica, the Blind Snake is considered to be the least at risk from environmental changes and the least threatened by extinction.

Jamaican Eyespot Boa

The Jamaican Eyespot Boa is another variant of the tropidophis family that the Jamaican Dwarf Boa also belongs to. The Jamaican Eyespot Boa is usually either bright orange or a dark brown color and has been known to change color during the course of a day. Another non-venomous snake, they pose no threat to humans and as they are highly secretive it’s incredibly unlikely that you’ll ever come across a Jamaican Eyespot Boa. They tend to be found in their preferred habitats of rain forests, dry limestone forests, swamps and scrub.

The Jamaican Eyespot Boa mostly feeds on small frogs and lizards. Similar to the Grass Snake, if threatened the Jamaican Eyespot Boa also defends itself by letting out an unholy stench. As with most of Jamaica’s snakes, the Eyespot Boa is also threatened by the continuing loss of habitat and through being hunted by non-native mammals.

Portland Ridge Dwarf Boa

cave rocks habitat
Photo by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash

The Portland Ridge Dwarf Boa is another snake endemic to Jamaica, and specifically the Portland Ridge region on the south of the island from where it gets its name. It’s thought that this is the only place on the entire island that the Portland Ridge Dwarf Boa can be found. Despite living so close to the coast the Portland Ridge Dwarf Boa lives mainly in dry areas, hiding out under rocks or in caves. Very little is known about this elusive snake’s behavior, except that it has chosen to stay in this one small corner of Jamaica.

As is sadly a common trend amongst Jamaica’s snake species the population of the Portland Ridge Boa is thought to be decreasing as the dreaded mongoose and other mammals continue to hunt them for food. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has listed the Portland Ridge Dwarf Boa as critically endangered, only one ranking away from being extinct in the wild.

Are there any venomous snakes in Jamaica?

There are no venomous snakes in Jamaica. The most dangerous snake is probably the Jamaican Boa, the largest of all the snakes found on Jamaica, but even this is harmless to humans. Though it can grow up to six feet in length and kills its prey through constriction, the Jamaican Boa is still seen as posing no threat to humans and generally looks a lot more menacing than it really is.

What is the biggest snake in Jamaica?

The biggest snake in Jamaica is the Jamaican Boa. The Jamaican Boa is the largest terrestrial predator, and the average adult reaches around six feet in length, with extreme examples growing to over eight feet long.

Are there sea snakes in Jamaica?

There are no sea snakes in Jamaica. The nearest Jamaica has to a sea snake is the grass snake that lives near rivers, lakes and ponds. If you do head into the sea, whilst there are plenty of Jamaica’s most dangerous animals to look out for, you can at least be safe in the knowledge that you won’t come across any snakes.

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