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Rhabdophis spp., in particular: R. tigrinus and R. subminiatus, Keelbacks


  • 1. Rhabdophis tigrinus
  • 2. Rhabdophis subminiatus


Serpentes; Colubridae; Natricinae

Common names


  • 1. Yamakagashi, Tigernatter
  • 2. Red-necked keelback


See link "Distribution" at the top of the page for detailed information on the distribution of R. subminiatus and R. tigrinus.


Approximately 15 species. Largest specimens up to 1.4 m, R. tigrinus maximum of 1 m, R. subminiatus maximum of 1.3 m. Slender body with a narrow head and large eyes, round pupils. Distinctively carinate dorsal body scales. On each side of the posterior maxilla are a pair of highly elongated, non-grooved teeth (aglyph).

Diurnal, ground-dwelling. Primarily in woodland, but also in wet grasslands or rice fields. Keelbacks feed mainly on frogs and toads, and are thus often found close to water. Several species, including R. subminiatus and R. tigrinus, are found from the lowlands to mountainous areas. R. tigrinus is one of the most common snakes in Japan and is often found in densely populated areas. These snakes are eaten in some regions of China and Japan and are farmed for this purpose.

Keelbacks are non-aggressive and rarely bite.


Keelbacks are popular terrarium snakes. Thousands of specimens of R. subminiatus have been imported into the USA for this reason.

Although envenoming occurs rarely – many bites do not result in symptoms – several cases of severe envenoming due to the Japanese R. tigrinus have been documented, as well as a few due to R. subminiatus. There are a number of known fatalities due to R. tigrinus. Accidents with these snakes have become common among snake catchers and keepers. Care needs to be taken when feeding the animals in a terrarium!

It is also necessary to be cautious with other Rhabdophis species, as well as with the closely related genera Macropisthodon, Pseudoxenodon and Xenochrophis.

Literature (biological)

Cable et al. 1984, Obst et al. 1984, Ota et al. 1999, Toriba and Sawai 1990, Toriba 1990b, Minton 1990, Cox 1991