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Superregnum: Eukaryota
Regnum: Animalia
Subregnum: Eumetazoa
Cladus: Bilateria
Cladus: Nephrozoa
Superphylum: Deuterostomia
Phylum: Chordata
Cladus: Craniata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Infraphylum: Gnathostomata
Superclassis: Tetrapoda
Cladus: Reptiliomorpha
Cladus: Amniota
Classis: Reptilia
Cladus: Eureptilia
Cladus: Romeriida
Subclassis: Diapsida
Cladus: Sauria
Infraclassis: Lepidosauromorpha
Superordo: Lepidosauria
Ordo: Squamata
Subordo: Serpentes
Infraordo: Caenophidia
Superfamilia: Colubroidea

Familia: Colubridae
Subfamilia: Natricinae
Genus: Rhabdophis
Species (28): R. adleri – R. akraios – R. angeli – R. auriculata – R. barbouri – R. bindi – R. callichroma – R. callistus – R. ceylonensis – R. chrysargoides – R. chrysargos – R. conspicillatus – R. flaviceps – R. guangdongensis – R. himalayanus – R. leonardi – R. lineatus – R. murudensis – R. nigrocinctus – R. nuchalis – R. pentasupralabialis – R. plumbicolor – R. rhodomelas – R. rudis – R. spilogaster – R. subminiatus – R. swinhonis – R. tigrinus

Rhabdophis Fitzinger, 1843: 27

Type species: Tropidonotus subminiatus Schlegel, 1837, by original designation.


Macropisthodon Boulenger, 1893: 265 [synonymised by Takeuchi et al. (2018: 10226)]
Type species: Amphiesma flaviceps Duméril, Bibron & Duméril, 1854, by subsequent designation.

Balanophis Smith, 1938: 583 [synonymised by Takeuchi et al. (2018: 10226)]
Type species: Tropidonotus chrysargus ceylonensis Günther, 1858, by original designation and monotypy.

Primary references

Fitzinger, L. 1843. Systema Reptilium. Fasciculus primus. Amblyglossae. Braumüller et Seidel: Wien. vi + 106 pp. BHL Reference page.
Boulenger, G.A. 1893. Catalogue of the snakes in the British Museum (Natural History). Volume I. British Museum (Natural History): London. 448 pp. BHL
Smith, M.A. 1938. The nucho-dorsal glands of snakes. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 107B(4): 575–583, 1 pl. DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-7998.1938.tb08532.x
Takeuchi, H., Savitzky, A.H., Ding, L., Silva, A. de, Das, I., Nguyen, T.T., Tsai, T.-S., Jono, T., Zhu, G.-X., Mahaulpatha, D., Tang, Y.-Z. & Mori, A. 2018. Evolution of nuchal glands, unusual defensive organs of Asian natricine snakes (Serpentes: Colubridae), inferred from a molecular phylogeny. Ecology and Evolution 8(20): 10219–10232. DOI: 10.1002/ece3.4497 Open access. Reference page.

Additional references

Doria, G., Petri, M., Bellati, A., Tiso, M. & Pistarino, E. 2013. Rhabdophis in the Museum of Genova with description and molecular analysis of a new species from Sumatra (Reptilia, Serpentes, Colubridae, Natricinae). Annali del Museo Civico di Storia Naturale "Giacomo Doria" 105: 139–153. Reference page.
Zhu, G.-X., Wang, Y.-Y., Takeuchi, H. & Zhao, E.-M. 2014. A new species of the genus Rhabdophis Fitzinger, 1843 (Squamata: Colubridae) from Guangdong Province, southern China. Zootaxa 3765(5): 469–480. DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.3765.5.5 Reference page.
Das, A., Smith, E.N., Sidik, I., Sarker, G.C., Boruah, B., Patel, N.G., Murthy, B.H.C.K. & Deepak, V. 2021. Hidden in the plain sight: a new species of Rhabdophis (Serpentes: Natricinae) from the Rhabdophis himalayanus complex. Zootaxa 5020(3): 401–433. DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.5020.3.1 Paywall Reference page.


Uetz, P. & Hallermann, J. 2021. Rhabdophis . The Reptile Database. Accessed on 8 October 2019.
Rhabdophis – Taxon details on Interim Register of Marine and Non-marine Genera (IRMNG).
Rhabdophis – Taxon details on Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS).

Vernacular names
English: Keelback Snakes

Rhabdophis is a genus of snakes in the subfamily Natricinae of the family Colubridae. Species in the genus Rhabdophis are generally called keelback snakes, and are found primarily in Southeast Asia.


Rhabdophis are classified under Colubriadae family and are harmless to humans. While the term "poisonous snake" is often incorrectly used for a wide variety of venomous snakes, some species of Rhabdophis are in fact poisonous but not venomous. Keelback snakes have salivary glands that secrete poison they ingest from eating poisonous toads. While both venom and poison are toxins, a venom requires direct delivery, for instance subcutaneously through a snake bite, but can be ingested without harm. A poison can also be absorbed indirectly, e.g., by touch or through the digestive system,[1] or delivered by the fang of a poisonous snake.[2][3] Rhabdophis ingest poisonous toads and the poison is absorbed into their blood stream, but the snake is immune to it. The toad poison now accumulates in their salivary glands which is secreted when they bite next time. Therefore, they use toad poison as their venom. Although this is harmful to small rodents, they cannot harm humans as the concentration of poison secreted is very low.

These species are recognized as being valid:[4]

Rhabdophis adleri Zhao, 1997
Rhabdophis akrios Doria et al., 2013
Rhabdophis angeli (Bourret, 1934)
Rhabdophis auriculatus (Günther, 1858)
Rhabdophis barbouri (Taylor, 1922) – Barbour's water snake[5]
Rhabdophis callichroma (Bourret, 1934)
Rhabdophis callistus (Günther, 1873)
Rhabdophis ceylonensis (Günther, 1858)
Rhabdophis chiwen Chen, Ding, Chen, & Piao, 2020 – Chiwen keelback
Rhabdophis chrysargoides (Günther, 1858)
Rhabdophis chrysargos (Schlegel, 1837) – specklebelly keelback
Rhabdophis conspicillatus (Günther, 1872)
Rhabdophis flaviceps (Duméril, Bibron & Duméril, 1854)
Rhabdophis guangdongensis Zhu et al., 2014
Rhabdophis himalayanus (Günther, 1864) – orange-collared keelback
Rhabdophis leonardi (Wall, 1923) – Burmese keelback
Rhabdophis lineatus (W. Peters, 1861) – zigzag-lined water snake
Rhabdophis murudensis (M.A. Smith, 1925)
Rhabdophis nigrocinctus (Blyth, 1856) – black-striped keelback
Rhabdophis nuchalis (Boulenger, 1891)
Rhabdophis pentasupralabialis Jiang & Zhao, 1983
Rhabdophis plumbicolor (Cantor, 1839)
Rhabdophis rhodomelas (Boie, 1827)
Rhabdophis spilogaster (F. Boie, 1827) – northern water snake
Rhabdophis subminiatus (Schlegel, 1837) – red-necked keelback
Rhabdophis swinhonis (Günther, 1868) – Swinhoe's grass snake[5]
Rhabdophis tigrinus (H. Boie, 1826) – tiger grooved-neck keelback, tiger keelback, Japanese grass snake, yamakagashi

Nota bene: A binomial authority in parentheses indicates that the species was originally described in a genus other than Rhabdophis.

Oldfield, Molly; Mitchinson, John (10 September 2010). "QI: Quite Interesting facts about deadly poisons". The Telegraph.
Zotz, R. B.; Mebs, D.; Hirche, H.; Paar, D. (1 January 1991). "Hemostatic changes due to the venom gland extract of the red-necked keelback snake (Rhabdophis subminiatus)". Toxicon. 29 (12): 1501–1508. doi:10.1016/0041-0101(91)90006-D. PMID 1801326.
Ferlan, I.; Ferlan, A.; King, T.; Russell, F. E. (1 January 1983). "Preliminary studies on the venom of the colubrid snake Rhabdophis subminatus (red-necked keelback)". Toxicon. 21 (4): 570–574. doi:10.1016/0041-0101(83)90137-X. PMID 6623495.
Genus Rhabdophis at The Reptile Database. www.reptile-database.org.

Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. (Rhabdophis barbouri, p. 16; R. swinhonis, p. 258).

External links

Animal Diversity Web list of species of Rhabdophis
Omne vivum list of species

Further reading

Fitzinger L (1843). Systema Reptilium, Fasciculus Primus, Amblyglossae. Vienna: Braumüller & Seidel. 106 pp. + indices. (Rhabdophis, new genus, p. 27). (in Latin).

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