Psammophis aegyptius MARX, 1958


Psammophis aegyptius Marx, 1958, was formerly considered as a subspecies of Psammophis schokari but is currently recognized as a distinct species (Schleich et al. 1996). In Morocco/Western Sahara, three distinct morphotypes have been recorded for P. schokari: the striped form that occurs in the Atlantic Coast and occasionally in the High Atlas Mountains; the unicoloured form typically present in the High Atlas; and the Western-Sahara form with a slightly less slender body, weakly striped pattern and greyish belly (Bons & Geniez 1996). The First two co-occur in Southern and Central Morocco, while the Western-Sahara morph is the only form in this region. The occurence of striped and unicoloured morphotypes has also been recorded in Israel and Sinai, Egypt (Kark et al. 1997).

Rato et. al (2007) compared the genetic diversity between these three different morphotypes using mtDNA sequence data from North African specimens. They conclude that Psammophis aegyptius is the sister-taxon of Psammophis schokari,and since the level of genetic divergence between these two taxa (10.7%) is similar to that between the other species, these results are not in conflict with the recognition of Psammophis aegyptius as a distinct species. Within P. schokari four genetic lineages (Morocco/Western Sahara, Mauritania, Israel and Algeria) can be identified that are geographically coherent. The lineages from Morocco/Western Sahara and Mauritania are sister taxa, while the samples from Algeria form the basal split within the species. Thus the geographically close Moroccan and Algerian lineages are genetically the most divergent.


Derivatio nominis aegyptius: 'from Egypt', 'Egyptian'
Common Names Sahara Sandsnake, Sahara Sandrennatter.
Synonym Psammophis aegyptius MARX 1958
Psammophis schokari aegyptius KRAMER & SCHNURRENBERGER 1963
Psammophis aegyptius — WERNER 1985
Psammophis schokari aegyptius — BRANDSTÄTTER 1996
Psammophis aegyptius — SCHLEICH, KÄSTLE & KABISCH 1996: 513
Psammophis aegyptius —TRAPE & MANÉ 2006: 146  
Distribution The Reptile Database: SE Algeria, S Egypt, Libya, Israel, Niger, Chad.

Brandstätter (1995) makes the remark that the name 'Egyptian sand snake' or something like that is not appropriate because the distribution area is not only in Egypt, and this designation would better suit the nominate P. sibilans. The name "Libyan sandsnake would be more correct as the distribution area is especially in the Libyan desert.
Recently a snake was offered in trade as 'desert Psammophis' (desert sandsnake), which would be an appropriate name, were it not that in this case it was used to specimens that belonged to the species Psammophis schokari.

Brandstätter points out the range as the Libyan Desert in Egypt and Libya, and also the southern half of Israel and the most southern part of the Sinai Peninsula.

The Reptile Database mentions as Type locality: Siwa, Siwa Oasis, Western Desert Governorate, Egypt. So 'Egyptian sandsnake' anyhow?

The Online Encyclopedia of Life offers some sites with data, based on the Global Biodiversity Information Facility


Trape & Mané 2015 about snakes in Niger:

Psammophis aegyptius Marx, 1958
Material: Three specimens.
Localities: Korri Solomi (1), Adrar Bous (1, BEV coll.),
Oued Er Roui (1, MNHN coll.).
Literature records: Agadez (Villiers 1950a, 1950b, Papenfuss
1969, as Psammophis schokari); cliff of Tiguidit
(Dragesco-Joffé 1993, as Psammophis schokari), Termit
(Ineich et al. 2014).
Remarks: It is unclear if P. schokari also occurs in Niger
(see Dragesco-Joffé 1993), but all specimens we examined had the high number of ventrals of P. aegyptius (Trape and Mané 2006b).


Comment Diagnosis.—A Psammophis with a stripe on the side of the head, running through the eye; belly finely punctulated; males with 188-199 ventrals and 17-19 scale rows at mid-body (from MARX 1958).  


Brandstätter (1995) gives as characteristic of (in his opinion), this subspecies of P. schokari that compared to the nominate form this snake has very pale marking. On top it is almost monochromatic sandy yellow, sometimes with a light stripe pattern. At the ventral side, these animals are usually reddish yellow speckled or unmarked. The head markings are very pale.

The distinction between P. aegyptius Psammophis schokari is based on the number of ventral scales (188-199, average 193.4, compared to 163-179, with an average of 171.3 in schokari), the number of midbody dorsal scale rows (in schokari always 17 , in aegyptius in a small majority of cases 19), the number of infralabials (statistically just more than in schokari, but with overlap), the lack of a dark ventral band (in schokari ever-present) and the absence of the dotted line at the edge of the ventral scales (in schokari always present). See Marx, 1958 .


Both pictures on Calphoto probably show P. sibilans, and not P. aegyptius. See also my page about the pictures .

  • Brandstätter,F. 1996. Die Sandrennnattern. Die Neue Brehm-Bücherei 636, Magdeburg (Germany), 142 pp.
  • Kark, Salit; Warburg, Ittai; Werner, Yehudah L 1997. Polymorphism in the snake Psammophis schokari on both sides of the desert edge in Israel and Sinai. JOURNAL OF ARID ENVIRONMENTS 37(3): 513-527
  • Kramer, E. & H. SCHNURRENBERGER 1963. Systematik, Verbreitung und Ökologie der Libyschen Schlangen. Rev. Sui. Zool. 70 (3): 453-568
  • Marx, Hymen. 1958. Egyptian snakes of the genus Psammophis. Fieldiana: Zoology 39: 191-200
  • Schleich, H.H., Kästle,W., Kabisch, K. 1996. Amphibians and Reptiles of North Africa. Koeltz, Koenigstein, 627 pp.
  • Trape, J.-F. & Mane, Y. 2006. Guide des serpents d’Afrique occidentale. Savane et désert. [Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger]. IRD Editions, Paris, 226 pp.
  • Venchi, Alberto and Roberto Sindaco 2006. Annotated checklist of the reptiles of the Mediterranean countries, with keys to species identification. Part 2 -Snakes (Reptilia, Serpentes). Annali del Museo Civico di Storia Naturale "G. Doria", Genova, XCVIII: 259-364
  • Werner Y L 1985. Defensive behaviour in a boigine snake: first record of throat inflation in Psammophis. ISRAEL JOURNAL OF ZOOLOGY 33(1-2) 1985: 69-71
  • Werner,Y.L. 1988. Herpetofaunal survey of Israel (1950-1985), with comments on Sinai and Jordan and on zoogeographical heterogeneity. in: Yom-Tov,Y. & Tchernov, E. (eds.) The zoogeography of Israel, Dr. W. Junk Publishers, Dordrecht (Netherlands); ISBN 90-6193-650-0

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