Psammophis mossambicus PETERS, 1882

First, an introduction to this snake by Daniel Louw:


Photo by Thomas Håkansson, the picture was taken in the small market town of Kaloleni ca 25 km northwest of Mombasa, Kenya.
Common Names Olive Whip Snake 
Synonym Psammophis sibilans var. mossambica PETERS 1882: 122
Psammophis sibilans var. tettensis PETERS 1882: 122
Psammophis thomasi GOUGH 1908: 30
Psammophis mossambicus — BROADLEY 2002
Psammophis mossambicus — CIMATTI 2006
Psammophis mossambica — JACOBSEN et al. 2010 
Distribution Mozambique Island, Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo (Katanga), Botswana, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Namibia

Type locality: Mozambique Island

Map legend:
 - Region according to the TDWG standard, not a precise distribution map.
 - source: Reptile Database, Oct. 2014

Reptile Atlas of Southern Africa: click here to find a distribution map

Types Syntypes: ZMB 2468A 
Description Description (760 specimens examined): Nostril pierced between 2 (rarely 3) nasals; preocular 1, usually widely separated from frontal; postoculars 2; temporals usually1/2+3; supralabials 8 (very rarely 6, 7 or 9), the fourth & fifth (rarely third & fourth or fifth & sixth) entering orbit; infralabials usually 10 (rarely 9 or 11), the first 4 (very rarely 5) in contact with anterior sublinguals; dorsal scales in 17-17-13 rows; ventrals 150-180; cloacal shield divided; subcaudals 82-121. Dorsum olive brown, often yellowish posteriorly, uniform, or with black-edged mid-dorsal scales forming black lines, or with irregularly scattered black scales on the neck. NMZB from Livingstone, Zambia, has 50% of the dorsal scales black and NMZB 13697 from the Haroni/Rusitu confluence on the Zimbabwe /Mozambique border has 90% of the dorsum black and about 60% of the ventrum. I encountered what appeared to be an all black P. mossambicus on the road between Victoria Falls and Kazungula. Head uniform or with indications of a pattern like P. subtaeniatus, usually in chestnut. Each labial and sublingual is adorned with a dark spot with a pale centre. Ventrum yellow or white, uniform or with lateral rows of black spots or short streaks or irregular black speckling [BROADLEY 2002].

Synonymy: Broadley (1977, 1983) has previously assigned this species to P. phillipsii (Hallowell), but Brandstätter (1995, PhD thesis) and Hughes (1999) consider P. phillipsii, a uniform olive form with an entire cloacal shield, to be restricted to West Africa, where it occupies forest clearings and moist savanna. Branch (1998) used the name P. mossambicus Peters; Broadley selected a lectotype in Berlin and this name is certainly applicable to the big Olive Whip Snake, but the first available name for this species may actually be P. irregularis Fischer, 1856, based on a specimen from Peki in eastern Ghana with a divided cloacal shield, which has extensive black dorsal patches on the anterior third of the body, decreasing posteriorly. Kelly et al. (2008) tentatively conclude that P. mossambicus is a synonym of P. phillipsi.

"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.
Psammophis mossambicus is also known to occur in wetland areas (Branch, 1998) and so may well occur in the riparian areas on the study site." (Maritz 2007)
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.
Individuals were seen foraging in the reeds at the edge of the wetland after it flooded" (Pietersen 2013).


A short video by Myke Clarkson, with mating initiation.

  • Branch, W. R. 1998. Field Guide to the Snakes and Other Reptiles of Southern Africa. Fully Revised and Updated to Include 83 New Species. Ralph Curtis Books (Sanibel Island, Florida), 399 S.
  • Branch, William R. 1993. A Photographic Guide to Snakes and Other Reptiles of Southern Africa. Cape Town: Struik Publishers, 144 S.
  • Broadley, D.G. 1977. A review of the genus Psammophis in southern Africa (Serpentes: Colubridae). Arnoldia 8 (12): 1-29
  • Broadley, D.G. 2002. A review of the species of Psammophis Boie found south of Latitude 12° S (Serpentes: Psammophiinae). African Journal of Herpetology 51 (2): 83-119 - get paper here
  • Broadley, D.G.; Doria, C.T. & Wigge, J. 2003. Snakes of Zambia. An Atlas and Field Guide. Edition Chimaira, Frankfurt, 280 pp. [review in Sauria 26 (3): 21]
  • Broadley, Donald G. and F. P. D. Cotterill. 2004. The reptiles of southeast Katanga, an overlooked 'hot spot'. [Congo] African Journal of Herpetology 53 (1): 35-61. - get paper here
  • Broadley,D.G. 1983. FitzSimon’s snakes of Southern Africa (revised edition). Delta Books, Jahannesburg, 376 pp.
  • Cimatti, E. 2006. African Jewels: Tanzania on foot. Reptilia (GB) (46): 65-70 - get paper here
  • Gough, L.H. 1908. Catalogue of the South African snakes in the collections of the Transvaal Museum, Pretoria, the Albany Museum, Grahamstown, and the State Museum, Bloemfontein. Ann. Transvaal Mus. 1: 17-45 - get paper here
  • Haagner,G.V.; Branch,W.R. & Haagner,A.J.F. 2000. Notes on a collection of reptiles from Zambia and adjacent areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Annals of the Eastern Cape Museum 1: 1 – 25
  • Hughes, B. 1999. Critical review of a revision of Psammophis (Linnaeus 1758) (Serpentes, Reptilia) by Frank Brandstätter. African Journal of Herpetology 48 (1-2): 63-70 - get paper here
  • Jacobsen, Niels H.G.; Errol W. Pietersen & Darren W. Pietersen 2010. A preliminary herpetological survey of the Vilanculos Coastal Wildlife Sanctuary on the San Sebastian Peninsula, Vilankulo, Mozambique. Herpetology Notes 3: 181-193
  • Marais, J. 2004. A Complete Guide to the Snakes of Southern Africa, 2nd ed. Struik Publishers, 312 pp.
  • Peters,W. 1882. Naturwissenschaftliche Reise nach Mossambique auf Befehl seiner Majestät es Königs Friedrich Wilhelm IV. in den Jahren 1842 bis 1848 ausgeführt von Wilhelm C. Peters. Zoologie III. Amphibien. Berlin (Reimer), 191pp.
  • Shine, Richard; William R. Branch, Jonathan K. Webb, Peter S. Harlow, and Terri Shine 2006. Sexual Dimorphism, Reproductive Biology, and Dietary Habits of Psammophiine Snakes (Colubridae) from Southern Africa. Copeia 2006 (4): 650-664 - get paper here
  • Spawls, S.; Howell, K.; Drewes, R.C. & Ashe, J. 2001. A field guide to the reptiles of East Africa. Academic Press, 543 pp. [reviews in HR 34: 396 and Afr. J. Herp. 51; 147]


Thomas Hohls posted these wonderful pictures in Reptiles of South Africa.
Feeding on one of the green snakes in Rio Savan. Beira. Mozambique.
Thomas Hohls posted these wonderful pictures in Reptiles of South Africa.
Feeding on one of the green snakes in Rio Savan. Beira. Mozambique.
Thomas Hohls posted these wonderful pictures in Reptiles of South Africa.
Feeding on one of the green snakes in Rio Savan. Beira. Mozambique.
Thomas Hohls posted these wonderful pictures in Reptiles of South Africa.
Feeding on one of the green snakes in Rio Savan. Beira. Mozambique.
Iddy Farmer posted this picture in the Facebook group East African Snakes & other Reptiles, 1 May 2015.
Stephen Spawls: "Certainly looks like Psammophis mossambicus, Olive sand snake, as presently defined; the rounded nose, general jizz and markings indicate so; as does the locality. It doesn't appear to have black ventral lines, which rules out the slight possibility it might be P. rukwae, Lake Rukwa sand snake. Nice picture!"
Last one for now I promise! Just been clearing a back log of un-id'd photos. A sand snake of some sort but none seem quite right. The face looks good for Eastern stripe bellied, but the body stripes are much more cleanly defined. Body looks more like northern stripe bellied but the head looks wrong, and these are again miles out of range, unfortunately only have the pocket guide with me at the moment so forgive me if the larger field guide holds the answers. Seen near ruaha national park.

Stephen Spawls: "It's a Psammophis, sand snake, and appears to be part of the mossambicus/rukwae/subtaeniatus complex; it's got light striping, yellow belly and faint head marks; looks intermediate between sudanensis and mossambicus."

"This skull comes from a 1,85 m long Olive Sand Snake. The snake was killed by locals in Kenya, near Malindi, Mere location. Unfortunately, this happens again and again, and we show, teach and explain to the people living there that, in principle, how they should behave reasonably towards snakes. I thought it would be interesting to see the teeth of such a snake."
Bill Ngwena Tana in the Facebook group East African Snakes & other reptiles, April 25, 2019.
Same skull.
Same skull. Same skull.
Same skull.