What is a Banded Krait?

C. K. Lanz

The banded krait, or bungarus fasciatus, is a species of venomous snake native to southeast Asia, Bangladesh, and India. This species is strikingly colorful with black and yellow or black and white body bands, a black head, and a yellow or white belly. The banded krait’s habitat is as varied as that of rodents, its preferred prey. Individuals are generally nocturnal and non-aggressive, though the venom is thought to be as deadly as that of the common cobra.

Although the toxin from a banded krait will not cause much pain or swelling, it may negatively affect the victim's coordination.
Although the toxin from a banded krait will not cause much pain or swelling, it may negatively affect the victim's coordination.

It is easy to identify the banded krait. Its colorful body is made up of alternating black and yellow or white bands. The head is black and broad with a yellow marking similar to an arrowhead. Its lips, throat, and underside are also either yellow or white. This snake can grow up to 83.7 inches (2.13 meters) long.

The habitat range is varied for banded kraits. They are found in forests, coastal areas, and near termite mounds. Fields and mangrove groves are other common habitats. This snake is often spotted near villages and human settlements where rodents and water are readily available.

This snake species is most active at night when it hunts. During the day, a banded krait will typically coil up in tall grass, drains, or pits. It is sluggish and slow to react while it is light outside.

Rodents and certain snakes including the rat snake, cat snake, and keelback are the banded krait’s common prey. The venom paralyzes the prey, which is then swallowed head first. The banded krait may also eat lizards, fish, and snake eggs.

There is no specific antivenin for the banded krait’s neurotoxic venom. Few records exist of human beings being bitten by this snake because it is primarily a nocturnal species. The toxin will not cause much pain or swelling, but can affect the muscles and coordination and even lead to respiratory paralysis.

When a banded krait feels threatened, its common reaction is to try to hide its head in the coils of its own body. The species’ shy temperament and small head explains in part this reluctance to bite. Since this snake is nocturnal, the likelihood of a human being fatally bitten during the day is small.

During the Vietnam War, American soldiers referred to the banded krait as the two-step snake. Many believed that once a person was bitten, death was assured after taking only two more steps. This exaggeration of the venom’s potency did little to endear this species to humans, even though it helpfully kills rodents and other snakes.

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Discussion Comments


The Russell's Viper was also called a "two-step" by soldiers in Vietnam. This viper was -- and is -- responsible for most of the fatal snakebites in its region.

Kraits are nothing to mess around with, though, and some are more diurnal and aggressive than others. However they are also elapids, which means their fangs are much smaller than a viper's and would have a hard time getting through tough jungle boots -- another reason to dress properly if going on a jungle trip. The best advice is the same for any snake anywhere -- leave it strictly alone. Don't try to pick them up or harass them in any way. Every jungle tourist should receive this instruction as a basic tenet of survival.

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