Hong Kong might be synonymous with skyscrapers, yet it has a huge amount of green space and an amazing array of wildlife. Here, we continue our nature series with a look at some facts, trivia and tips about the snakes of Hong Kong.
#1 Snakes? In Hong Kong?! How many?
It might be a relatively small place, but Hong Kong has approximately 50 species of snakes, from the Mangrove Water Snake to the Many-spotted Cat Snake.
#2 The ones to watch
Of those, nine have bites that are generally classed as potentially life-threatening. They are:
- Banded Krait
- Many-banded Krait
- Chinese Cobra
- King Cobra
- Coral Snake
- Mountain Pit Viper (or Tonkin Pit Viper)
- Pointed Scale Pit Viper
- Red-necked Keelback
- Bamboo Pit Viper
Note: You’ll sometimes see eight snakes listed as life-threatening rather than nine. That’s because all of the above are classed as “lethal”, while the Bamboo Pit Viper is classed as “rarely lethal”. See here, for example.
#3 A close shave
Speaking of the Bamboo Pit Viper, it’s Hong Kong’s most common venomous snake. An expat was bitten in Sai Kung in September 2019, but fortunately made a swift recovery after receiving antivenom in hospital.
#4 Lethal or harmless?
Identifying snakes is a big issue; if you know the type of snake that you’ve been bitten by, it can help you get assessed and treated the right way. A danger with the Bamboo Pit Viper is that it looks similar to the harmless Greater Green Snake. The latter is docile and has a diet mostly of earthworms and insect larvae. Yet, there are plenty of subtle differences that can help telling one from the other. These include shape of head, type of scales, apperance of pupil, and, in particular, tail markings. The Bamboo Pit Viper has orangey/red colouring on the tail, while the Greater Green retains its green colour from end to end.
#5 How to learn more
To get to know your Hong Kong snakes a bit better, there’s a fantastic online resource called Hong Kong Snake ID , which has been put together by two long-time residents of Asia, Rob Ferguson and Adam Francis. It’s an easy-to-follow yet comprehensive website with stunning photography. Whether you’re a snake enthusiast or you just happen to have a snake outside your house and you’re scrambling to work out which one it is, this is a must-visit.
#6 The good news
Despite the snake-fest we’ve alluded to above, snake bites are rare in Hong Kong – and deaths even rarer. One reference states that there are around 100 snake bites a year. And the last recorded death was several decades ago.
#7 Year of the Snake
In the Chinese zodiac, the Snake is considered an enigmatic animal, variously described as wise, humorous, sophisticated and goal-oriented. The next Snake “year” is 2025. Famous Snakes include Pablo Picasso (born in 1881 and therefore a Gold Snake), Mao Zedong (1893, Water Snake) and John F Kennedy (1917, Fire Snake). Also Slytherin her way onto the list – see what we did there? – is JK Rowling (1965, Wood Snake).
If you’re a Snake, your lucky numbers are 2, 8 and 9, and your lucky colours are black, red and yellow.
#8 Not everyone’s cup of … soup
Snake soup has long been considered a delicacy in Hong Kong. It’s considered a “warming” dish that can help with a range of ailments including arthritis. Different snake species are used (one common HK snake that features in the dish is the Indo Chinese Rat Snake), and the preparation usually involves adding snake meat and bones to a broth that includes pork or chicken bones, ham, black fungus, ginger, mandarin peel and more.
Hong Kong’s snake soup vendors continue to fall in number, largely because families involved in the business struggle to find members of the younger generation to take the reins!
#9 Snake-free zones
If you’re an expat or you’re planning on moving overseas and snakes really give you the heebie-jeebies, then you should think about taking up your next posting either in Ireland or Iceland. Both countries have no natives snake species at all! New Zealand’s another option, though it does have quite a few sea snakes.
#10 Who to call?
If you happen to get bitten by a snake in Hong Kong, call 999 for emergency services!
Read on for more features about living in Hong Kong.