Alex Howard, PhD student in the Museum, writes:
The jar is about barely bigger than my thumb, and the animal within is hardly any longer. When pressed, most people would probably conclude that it’s some sort of weird worm. With the naked eye it’s hard to even identify which end is the head.
It is, in fact, a snake. Indotyphlops braminus, also known as the Brahminy blindsnake or the ‘flowerpot snake’. Despite her small size and unilluminating features, she is actually one of the most interesting snakes out there. And I say she for a reason. I know this animal is female because all Brahminy blindsnakes are female. This species is the only known obligately parthenogenic snake. Parthenogenesis, or ‘virgin birth’ is when a female animal can give birth to viable offspring without the input of a male. This method of reproduction is actually pretty common in both lizards and snakes, but most species can also reproduce in the ‘traditional way’. What makes the Brahminy blindsnake so interesting is that they only reproduce via parthenogenesis.
This species is found throughout Southeast Asia and parts of Africa, including Madagascar, as well as the islands of the Indian Ocean and Northern Australia, giving it probably the widest distribution of any terrestrial snake. The wide distribution of this species is mainly due to its way of life. Individuals are very small and have a tendency to burrow around plant roots, and so humans have accidentally distributed them across four continents in the soil around exotic plants, hence the nickname ‘flowerpot snake’. And, due to their ability to reproduce by parthenogenesis, even a single individual can found a colony, so all it takes is for one little snake to reach the soil.