Dipsina multimaculata (SMITH, 1847)

Photographs See index
Description Dipsina multimaculata is a small snake with a distinct, pointed (hooked, beaked) snout. Adults may attain a total length of 40-50cm, including a 4.5 cm tail.
It is pale buff or sandy gray dorsally, with three or five series of regular brown spots. The spots in the vertebral series are broader than long. There is a V-shaped brown mark on the back part of the head, and a diagonal brown streak from behind the eye towards the corner of the mouth. Ventrally, it is whitish.
The smooth dorsal scales are arranged in 17 rows. Ventrals 155-168 in females; anal plate divided; subcaudals divided (paired) 31-40 in females.

I (TS) am struck by the similarity in appearance (and habits) of this snake to Scutophis moilensis.

Common Names Dwarf Beaked Snake, Western Beaked Snake 
Taxonomy Coronella multimaculata SMITH 1847
Rhamphiophis multimaculatus — STERNFELD 1910: 56
Rhamphiophis multimaculatus — FITZSIMONS & BRAIN 1958
Dipsina multimaculata — BRANCH 1987
Dipsina multimaculata — AUERBACH 1987: 165
Dipsina multimaculata — BRANCH & BAUER 2005 

The place of the genus Dipsina within the group of psammophiini is unclear. In Kelly e.a. 2008 and 2009 the genus is placed als a sister taxon to Psammophis. Both taxons are together placed as sister group to the group containing Mimophis, Psammophylax and  Hemirhagerrhis. Alle these groups together are one sister group to another group containing Rhamphiophis and Malpolon (including moilensis).
In Vidal e.a. 2008 the group Mimophis-Hemirhagerrhis-Psammophylax is positioned as a sister taxon of Dipsina, but not of Psammophis. One level higher Psammophis is there placed as a sister group with Mimophis-Hemirhagerrhis-Psammophylax-Dipsina.

The place of Dipsina in the group of the psammophiids is particularly interesting as it is the only genus of which we do not know in what way these animals rub (and even if they do so at all). As far as we know now, only members of the genus Psammophis (including Dromophis as a synonym) use the P-system.

Distribution Namibia, S Botswana, C/W Republic of South Africa

This snake species distribution includes the Namibian coast line, southern Namibia, the Northern Cape, Western Cape and parts of the Eastern Cape an North West province. Its favoured habitat is the Namib desert but also includes karoo scrub and arid savanna. (Biodiversity)

Map legend:
- Region according to the TDWG standard, not a precise distribution map.
Food Its diet consists almost exclusively of lizards.
Venom Has a mild venom that has almost no effect on man.
Habits "They hiss loudly and spread a narrow hood similar to what Dasypeltis do (as seen in the middle picture). Having said that, they have never tried to bite me or even strike."And: "They do recoil sharply when molested, but that's certainly not a strike."(Source)
Captivity "On 2 occasions I have tried in vain to keep these snakes successfully. I have usually resorted to keeping them in large enclosures on a sandy substrate with a heat lamp in a corner for basking. I would provide plenty hiding and security with rocks as well as flattened cardboard tubing to create false burrows. I tried to feed them on a natural diet of lizards, skinks and geckos but the snakes never ate.
The general consensus is they don't do well but this does not mean they cant be kept successfully. I know of a friend who has had one for years and it eats no problem." (Source)

"They are notoriously difficult to keep successfully over the long term.
I have seen their habitat and I would assume from their behaviour that they would require larger enclosures.
They do well on lizards and enough heat." (Source)

  • Auerbach,R.D. 1987. The Amphibians and Reptiles of Botswana. Mokwepa Consultants, Botswana, 295 pp.
  • Baard, E.H.W. 1987. Geographical Distribution - Dipsina multimaculata Jour. Herp. Ass. Afr. (33): 29-29 - get paper here
  • Bauer, A.M., and Branch, W.R. 2003. The herpetofauna of the Richtersveld National Park, Northern Cape Province, Republic of South Africa. Herpetological Natural History 8:111-160 [2001]
  • Branch, W R 1987. New herpetological distribution records in the western Cape Province. Jour. Herp. Ass. Afr. 33: 29-31 - get paper here
  • Branch, William R. 1993. A Photographic Guide to Snakes and Other Reptiles of Southern Africa. Cape Town: Struik Publishers, 144 S.
  • Branch, William R. & Bauer, Aaron M. 2005. The herpetological contributions of Sir Andrew Smith. SSAR, 80 pp.
  • Chirio,L. & Ineich,I. 1992. Les genres Rhamphiophis Peters 1854 et Dipsina Jan 1863 (Serpentes, Colubridae): revue des taxons reconnus et description d'une espèce nouvelle. Bull. Mus. natl. Hist. nat., Paris, 4è ser. 13A (1-2): 217-235
  • Fitzsimons, V.F.M.; Brain, C.K. 1958. A Short account of the Reptiles of the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park. Koedoe, 1(1): 99-104
  • Kelly, Christopher M.R., Nigel P. Barker, Martin H. Villet, Donald G. Broadley, William R. Branch, 2008. The snake family Psammophiidae (Reptilia: Serpentes): Phylogenetics and species delimitation in the African sand snakes (Psammophis Boie, 1825) and allied genera. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, Volume 47, Issue 3, June 2008, Pages 1045-1060
  • Kelly. Christopher M. R., Nigel P. Barkera, Martin H. Villetb and Donald G. Broadley, 2009. Phylogeny, biogeography and classification of the snak.e superfamily Elapoidea: a rapid radiation in the late Eocene. Cladistics 25 (2009) 38–63.
  • Smith,A. 1847. Illustrations of the zoology of South Africa, Reptilia. Smith, Elder, and Co., London - get paper here
  • Sternfeld, R. 1910. Zur Schlangenfauna Deutsch-Südwestafrikas. Mehrere Fälle von Mimikry bei afrikanischen Schlangen. Mitt. zool. Mus. Berlin, 5: 51-60
  • Nicolas Vidal, William R. Branch,Olivier S.G. Pauwels, S. Blair Hedges, Donald G. Broadley, Michael Wink, Corinne Cruauds, Ulrich Joger and Zoltan Tamas Nagy, 2008. Dissecting the major African snake radiation: a molecular phylogeny of the Lamprophiidae Fitzinger (Serpentes, (Caenophidia). Zootaxa 1945: 51–66 (2008)
This photo was published in the Facebook group Snakes of Namibia by Chantelle Bosch in 2015.


A wonderful short video of defensive behavior of a juvenile Dipsina was taken by Chantelle Bosch in 2015 and posted in the Facebook group Snakes of Namibia. Click here to see it if the former link didn't work.


Photo by Mike Soroczynski in the
Facebook group ‎Reptiles of Southern Africa
Photo by Mike Soroczynski in the
Facebook group ‎Reptiles of Southern Africa
Picture by The living desert snake park, Namibia.