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Repeated breeding of Psammophis orientalis and some comparison with Malpolon monspessulanus

By Cesare Colli

Psammophis orientalis are slender and very fast snakes living in the southern part of Africa. Males reach 140cm while adult females are slightly smaller. They are good climbers and feed primarily on lizards, rodents and chicks.

My experience began in 2006 with an adult male . He was already in poor health when I bought him and died after several months as a result of a heavy infestation of intestinal worms. Then I bought another adult male from a German importer, and this snake accustomed well to life in a terrarium.

In daily observations, I often saw the typical “rubbing” behavior, especially during the hottest hours.
Equally typical is the behavior as a periscope, that is the careful observation of the surrounding area with the head off the ground and upright like a periscope up to 40 cm above the ground.

After a few months, I went looking for a female and I found and bought 2 from a Dutch guy. They were well accustomed to life in captivity. One was more stocky and with its tail broken, the other was smaller and slimmer and seemed almost a young male. I put each animal in a single terrarium that let them adjust to the new housing. All snakes were kept at 28/32°C day and 22/24°C at night. I added a branch in every terrarium, a water bowl and another one with a damp sponge to raise the humidity. The cages were 90x50x50cm (male) and 70x40x40cm (female). All snakes eat about once a week a thawed mouse or pieces of chicken.

Killing the prey occurs by constriction both with the simultaneous use of poison (rarely only by poison). I saw the prey slowly suffocate, the eyes protruding from their face, like when happens with the genus Elaphe kills the prey. I noticed that in my terrariums Psammophis mossambicus (phillipsi?) mostly used only its poison. These snakes held the adult mice only with their jaws and injected the venom with typical chewing action, mossambicus was very able to catch the mice immediately behind the neck to prevent their bites while the poison began to act. It takes about 30-40 seconds to kill a 25-30 g mouse.

I experimented with three different substrates: newspaper strips, cubes of beech, and coconut fiber. All three were satisfying. A second source of moisture (by means of a wet sponge) in addition to the water bowl, was used to prevent that the skin of the snakes would get too dry, causing shedding difficulties.

In March 2008, all three animals fed well and regularly, although the second female still remained thinner. On the evening of 22 March, almost as a trial, I decided to put the strongest female with the male and immediately saw the preliminaries to mating. The two snakes were kept together for a week. The female then began to eat a lot until April 15, when she took her last meal, May 9 she shed for the last time before the deposition of the eggs, which occurred May 17. When I saw the eggs, I was at first a little skeptical. The eggs were beautiful, in all 84 g for 12 eggs, but the color was yellow and this seemed not a good sign. They measured about 16 mm x 25-30 mm, and the female weighed 144 g after the deposition. Fortunately, the color of the eggs changed in subsequent days and became more white, and I saw, by candling, that 9 were fertile.
The incubation was at 28-32°C and the first egg hatched at 6.30 am on 25 July, the last of 27 to 12 July. The babies, very thin, weighing about 4 g, made the first shedding on 2-3 August and the second on August 31.

On 21 April in the same year I also put the smaller, about 90cm total length, and whiter female with the male. They mated at once and regularly for a week, then I put them again in separated cages. The female shed on May 30 and on June 6 laid 6 eggs with a total weight of 59g. After deposition, she weighed 82g. Unfortunately and inexplicably, but perhaps due to the effort and loss of energy, she died two days later.
The eggs measured 16 mm x 29-38 mm and were about 9g each. The incubation was fine and babies were born between 14 and 16 Aug., weighing 4/5 g , shedding after a week.

On May 24, exactly a week after her deposition, due to space constraints, I decided to temporarily put the largest female in the males cage. At the time I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the snakes because I had to leave for work. When the day after I watched the terrarium, I saw two snakes together in mating.
The female was immediately removed and placed by itself, as she had had not enough time to eat a lot. On June 6 she took the last meal, shed on June 19 and laid seven days thereafter 10 beautiful yellow eggs (as usual). The eggs were 6 g each and the female after deposition weighed 100g. Therefore her weight was 44g less than at the time of the egg deposition in May. (Obviously the following years I avoided this double play.) The eggs hatched between 14 and 17 September.

I waited a year to allow the female to recover and then put the male and the female back together On March 30, 2009, they mated once. She sloughed on May 6 and 13 eggs fertile of six gram each were laid on May 12. After spawning, the female weighed 170g, almost double in comparison with her weight after the second deposition of 2008.
The eggs hatched from 25 July on.

The following year the same female mated in January with another male, lent by a friend, but this did not lead to anything. Then I put her back in March with the usual male, and all went well: another 10 eggs were laid in May 2010.

I finally gave my entire collection to a German guy. Each year it had been very challenging to feed the babies. At first, I had to forcefeed them with a 1.5 / 2 cm of mouse tail, and after some time newborn mice. Not every little snake started eating mice easily, they all preferred lizards as prey.
If feeding well, a male can grow up to 70/80 cm in total length in one year.

These are some of my considerations on the basis of these experiences.

The ‘rubbing behaviour’ of Psammophis orientalis is similar to that of Malpolon, but differs mainly in that Malpolon does it all on one side and then on the other side, while Psammophis alternates passages of the nose from one hand to the other.

Males of both species have a protective attitude toward females, especially during mating time.

My Psammophis has always laid her eggs a week after the last shed, Malpolon (in 4 depositions ) two weeks after shedding.

P. orientalis in my terrariums has reproduced with couplings in March, and certainly in nature females may have a second deposition if well fed. January matings did not have effect (fault of the new male? Was not the right season?) The eggs were always yellowish (as the color of their bellies) and very tough (like those of Malpolon).

Females can lay eggs up to 40% of their weight. The incubation time is from 69 to 74 days.The time of hatching between the first and the last egg is about 60 hours.

SUMMARY TABLE OF MATING

 

Start mating

Female last meal

shedding

Laying date

Number of eggs

hatching

 

 

 

 

 

 

22 March 2008 F1/M1

15 April

9 May

17 May

      12     84g

25 July

21 April 2008     F2/M1

unknown

30 May

6 June

       6       59g

14 August

24 May 2008     F1/M1

6 June

26 June

2 July

      10      60g

14 September

30 March 2009 F1/M1

unknown

6 May

12 May

      13       72g  

25 July

January 2010     F1/M2

 

 

NO LAYING

 

 

March 2010       F1/M1

unknown

unknown

May

      10

unknown

F1 = Yellowish and bigger female ,from Tanzania.
F2 = Whitish and smaller female, from Tanzania.
M1 = Adult male (140cm total length),from Tanzania.
M2 = Adult male (lighter in color)lent from a friend.

I would like to conclude by saying that in my opinion these snakes are nervous but very intelligent, and interesting in their behavior. They belong definitely to my favorites.


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