Psammophis brevirostris PETERS, 1881

Common Names Short-snouted Grass Snake, Kortsnoetsweepslang [Afrikaans]
Synonym Psammophis brevirostris PETERS 1881: 89
Psammophis breviceps PETERS 1881: 87 (in error for brevirostris)
Psammophis brevirostris — WERNER 1899
Psammophis brevirostris — STERNFELD 1910: 56
Psammophis sibilans brevirostris — AUERBACH 1987: 169
Psammophis sibilans brevirostris — BOYCOTT 1992
Psammophis sibilans brevirostris — BAUER et al. 1995: 73
Psammophis brevirostris — BROADLEY 2002
Psammophis brevirostris — SHINE et al. 2006 
Distribution Republic of South Africa, Swaziland, KwaZulu-Natal, relict populations in Zimbabwe, Botswana, and E Namibia

Type locality: “Xa Matlale” [Matlale Mission, N Transvaal, Republic of South Africa]

Map legend: region according to the TDWG standard, not a precise distribution map.

More accurate is the following map, as showed in the site of the Animal Demography Unit (click for large picture):

The same site gives the following more detailed map for South Africa alone:

As you can see, there is considerable overlap with Psammophis mossambicus, with which it is easily confused, though both species are not that closely related, evolutionarily considered. See the scheme in Kelly 2008: click here.

Types Lectotype: ZMB 7256 (designated by BROADLEY 1977) 
Comment Taxonomy: Werner 1902 described Psammophis brevirostris temporalis which may be a synonym of Psammophis sibilans brevirostris.
Description Description (brevirostris; 207 specimens examined): Nostril pierced between 2 nasals; preocular 1, usually widely separated from frontal; postoculars 2; temporals usually1/2+3; supralabials 8 (very rarely 7 or 9), the fourth & fifth (rarely third & fourth, fourth only or fifth & sixth) entering orbit; infralabials usually 10 (rarely 9 or 11), the first 4 (rarely 3 or 5) in contact with anterior sublinguals; dorsal scales in 17-17-13 rows; ventrals 146-167; cloacal shield divided; subcaudals 79-108. Dorsum olive brown, vertebral scale row usually with a pale median line, seven mid-dorsal scale rows often black-edged, forming narrow black lines; pale or with traces of pale transverse bars posteriorly and often faint crossbands on neck. Labials uniform yellow or white, sometimes with faint brown infuscation. Ventrum uniform white or with lateral series of black dots, a pair situated near the free edge of each ventral [BROADLEY 2002].

People in the area point at the light colored dorsal median line which would be characteristic, but others have seen mossambicus with the same line.

Peters 1881, description of the new species:

p. 89:
"Diese Schlange hat, abgesehen von der Kopfform, die grösste Aehnlichkeit mit Ps. sibilans. Die Schnauze erscheint abgestutzt und convex, und die Schilder derselben sind kürzer und im Verhältniss breiter als bei jener Art. Das Frenale ist um die Hälfte länger als hoch. Das einfache Anteorbitale ist weit getrennt von dem Frontale, mit dem es bei Ps. sibilans zusammenstösst. Zwei oder drei Postorbitalia ; 8 oder 9 Supralabialia, im ersten Falle tritt das 4te und 5te, im letzten das 4te, 5te und 6te an das Auge. Temporalia ähnlich, wie bei Ps. sibilans.
Schuppen in der Körpermitte in 17 Längsreihen, mehr gestreckt als bei Ps. sibilans. 158 Abdominalia, Anale getheilt, 95 Paar Subcaudalschuppen. Oben ocherbraun, die Schuppen der Mittellinie schwarz gerandet und mit einem verlängerten gelben Fleck. Die braune Färbung zieht sich entweder bis zu der untersten Schuppenreihe herab und die Schuppen sind theilweise schwarz gerandet, oder es findet sich eine gelbe Seitenbinde, welche auf der 4ten und 5ten Schuppenreihe verläuft, oder die Seiten sind von der 4ten Schuppenreihe an gelb. Bei jungen Exemplaren erkennt man die bei Ps. sibilans aus Aegypten so deutliche Kopfzeichnung gelber Linien. Die ganze Unterseite blassgelb."

So, translated: 'the snout appears blunt and convex, and the shields are shorter and in proportion wider than [in P. sibilans].'
This is not always so easy to see in live animals, and not even in head shield graphics:

Psammophis mossambicus

Psammophis brevirostris


Juvenile specimen from the Durban area, found by Rob Macmillan

Found by Cor Viljoen in Klein Kariba, close to Warmbaths, Gauteng.

Found by Cor Viljoen in Klein Kariba, close to Warmbaths, Gauteng.

P. mossambicus, hatchling Myke Clarkson, with light dorsal dashed line.

Reproduction Oviparous
Habitat "Four species were only detected in non-riparian areas. These include the snakes
Psammophis brevirostris and Psammophis mossambicus, the lizard Trachylepis varia, and the frog Breviceps mossambicus. Psammophis brevirostris and P. mossambicus are both grassland species that are known to occur at high densities in sugarcane plantations (Johnson and Raw, 1989) indicating that these two species would likely recolonise the area after mining from surrounding agricultural areas."(1)

Riparian areas are important because they host a larger variety of species and can act as a buffer zone from which species may re-enter an adjacent zone that is disturbed because of e.g. mining or other heavy human utilisation. (see 1)

"It is found in a variety of habitats ranging from grassland to the Namib Desert."(3)

Food "Eats other snakes, rodents, lizards and birds."(3)
Predation "Eaten by small carnivorous mammals  (e.g. meerkats and mongooses), birds of prey (particularly secretary birds and snake eagles) and other snakes."(3)
Reproduction "Oviparous (egg-laying), lays between 4 and 15 eggs and often two clutches in summer."(3)
  • Auerbach,R.D. 1987. The Amphibians and Reptiles of Botswana. Mokwepa Consultants, Botswana, 295 pp.
  • Bauer,A.M.; Günther,R. & Klipfel,M. 1995. The herpetological contributions of Wilhelm C.H. Peters (1815-1883). SSAR Facsimile Reprints in Herpetology, 714 pp.
  • Boycott, R.C. 1992. An Annotated Checklist of the Amphibians and Reptiles of Swaziland. The Conservation Trust of Swaziland, 1992; online at http://www.sntc.org.sz/checklst/sdreptam.html.
  • Branch, William R. 1993. A Photographic Guide to Snakes and Other Reptiles of Southern Africa. Cape Town: Struik Publishers, 144 S.
  • Broadley, D.G. 2002. A review of the species of Psammophis Boie found south of Latitude 12° S (Serpentes: Psammophiinae). Afr. J. Herpetol. 51 (2): 83-119 - get paper here
  • Peters, Wilhem Carl Hartwig 1881. Herpetologische Mittheilungen (Excrescenzen des Männchens von Rana gigas Blyth in der Paarungszeit, Psammophis biseriatus und breviceps, Dinodon cancellatum Dum. Bibr. = Lycodon rufozonatus Cantor, Lycodon napei Dum. Bibr. = Lycodon striatus Shaw, ba Sitzungsber. Ges. Naturf. Freunde Berlin 1881 (6): 87-91 - get paper here
  • Sternfeld, R. 1910. Zur Schlangenfauna Deutsch-Südwestafrikas. Mehrere Fälle von Mimikry bei afrikanischen Schlangen. Mitt. zool. Mus. Berlin, 5: 51-60
  • Werner, F. 1899. Ueber Reptilien und Batrachier aus Togoland, Kamerun und Deutsch-Neu-Guinea grösstentheils aus dem k. Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin. Verhandlungen der Kaiserlich-Königlichen Zoologisch-Botanischen Gesellschaft in Wien 49: 132-157
Picture by Renae Albers Botha in Snakes of South Africa, Facebook group, 9 Januari 2017.    



(1) Maritz, Bryan, 2007. The distribution and abundance of herpetofauna on a Quaternary aeolian dune deposit: Implications for Strip Mining. Diss. Johannesburg 2007

(2) The Reptile Database

(3) Biodiversity website