Common names: pipe snakes, shield-tailed snakes.
The Uropeltidae are a family of primitive burrowing snakes found in southern India and Sri Lanka. The name is derived from the Greek words ura ("tail") and pelte ("shield"), indicating the presence of the large keratinous shield at the tip of the tail. Currently, 8 genera are recognized comprising 47 species.


These are small snakes, with adults growing to between 20 and 75 cm in length. They are adapted to a fossorial way of life, which is apparent in their anatomy. The skull is primitive and inflexible, with a short vertical quadrate bone and rigid jaws; the coronoid bone is still present in the lower jaw. The orbital bones are absent, the supratemporal is vestigial and the eyes are small and degenerate, not covered by a brille, but by large polygonal shields. However, the pelvis and hind limbs, the presence of which is also considered a primitive trait, have disappeared in this family.

The tail is characteristic, ending in either A) an enlarged rigid scale with two points, or more often an upper surface with a subcircular area covered with thickened spiny scales, or B) a much enlarged spiny plate. The ventral scales are much reduced in size. The body is cylindrical and covered with smooth scales.

Geographic range

Found in southern India and Sri Lanka. In India, their distribution is mainly along the hills of Western Ghats, and only one species, Elliot's shieldtail, Uropeltis ellioti, has been reported from other areas such as Eastern Ghats and hills of Central India. In Sri Lanka, they occur in areas whose climatic conditions are similar to that of Western Ghats, like the south western part of Sri Lanka.


The diet consists mostly of invertebrates, particularly earth worms, although few studies have verified this.


All members of this family lay eggs (ovoviviparous).


Genus Taxon author Species Common name Geographic range
Brachyophidium Wall, 1921 1 Southern India in the Palni Hills.
Melanophidium Günther, 1864 3 Southern India in the Peermade Hills in Kerala and the Anaimalai Hills in Tamil Nadu.
Platyplectrurus Günther, 1868 2 Southern India and Sri Lanka.
Plectrurus A.H.A. Duméril, 1851 4 Southern India.
Pseudotyphlops Schlegel, 1839 1 Sri Lanka in central and southern Uva and Sabaragamuwa Provinces.
Rhinophis Hemprich, 1820 12 Southern India and Sri Lanka.
Teretrurus Beddome, 1886 1 Southern India in Wayanad, Travancore, Nalumukku, Oothu, the Manimuthar Hills (in the Western Ghats of Tirunelveli) and Nyamakad (in the Western Ghats of the Kerala Munnar Hills).
UropeltisT Cuvier, 1829 23 Southern India and Sri Lanka.
T) Type genus.

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