Psammophis orientalis BROADLEY, 1977

Picture by Cesare Colli.

Derivatio nominis From Latin: 'out of the orient / from the east'
Common Names
Species The history of this species is rather confusing. In the past this snake was considered to be a subspecies of P. subtaeniatus: P. s. sudanensis. This subspecies appeared to be problematic. Broadley (1977) renamed it to orientalis. Of late this orientalis is considered as a species.

All by all this snake is mentioned in litterature with many different names: Psammophis sibilans var. subtaeniata, Psammophis sibilans, Psammophis subtaeniatus, Psammophis subtaeniatus sudanensis, Psammophis subtaeniatus, Psammophis subtaeniatus orientalis and in recent studies as Psammophis orientalis.


Comment Description from Broadley 2002(139 specimens examined): Nostril pierced between 2 nasals; preocular 1 (very rarely 2), in short contact with or separated from frontal; postoculars 2; temporals basically 2+2+3, but with frequent fusions; supralabials 8 (rarely 7 or 9), the fourth & fifth (rarely third & fourth, fourth, fifth & sixth 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 146-170; cloacal shield divided; subcaudals 91-118. Dorsum dark brown, top of head uniform; each scale in vertebral row paler at base, an illdefined pale dorsolateral stripe on scale row 4 and adjacent halves of rows 3 and 5; a dark stripe across rostral, anterior nasal and upper portions of supralabials 1-4; labials white speckled with black; lower half of outer scale row and ends of ventrals white, separated by a pair of well defined black ventral lines from a yellow mid-ventral band. Some large specimens from Bazaruto Island, Benguerua Island and Pomene show progressive dark grey infuscation of the upper and lower labials, chin, throat and outer edges of the ventrals.  
Venom Generally, snakes of this genus are not really a threat to humans. I was repeatedly bitten by specimens of P. subtaeniatus, P. sibilans, P. condanarus without noticing any effect. On a snake forum I found a case of a bite by P. cf. orientalis (?) with photographs of a heavily swollen hand. To what extend this can be a case of an individual (over)reaction, is not clear. People react to for instance a bee stitch in a very different way.
Photo 1 / Photo 2 / Photo 3
Behavior I  quote Gilian: 'This animal is very nervous and wild. It cannot be handled with a hook, so I catch it wearing gloves. The problem is it bites immediately and does not release. :( It chews at first and then holds on fiercely. If it releases at last after some minutes, there is blood on the glove. :( It doesn't want to use a lockable shelter, the stupid animal. Luckily he doesn't need to be caught often as his vivarium is very arid and his feces are vert small (though manyfold).'

The behavior of this snake seems to be identical with that of specimens of P. sibilans and P. subtaeniatus in captivity. They never really tame, which is also true for those born in captivity.

  • Broadley, D. G. & HOWELL, K. M. 1991. A check list of the reptiles of Tanzania, with synoptic keys. Syntarsus 1: 1—70
  • 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). Afr. J. Herpetol. 51 (2): 83-119
  • Cimatti, E. 2005. Zanzibar - Zala Zoological Park. Reptilia (GB) (39): 62-68
  • 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
  • Malonza, Patrick K.; Victor D. Wasonga, Vincent Muchai , Damaris Rotich, Beryl A. Bwong; A.M. Bauer 2006. Diversity and Biogeography of Herpetofauna of the Tana River Primate National Reserve, Kenya. Journal of East African Natural History 95(2): 95–109
  • 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]

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Picture by Cesare Colli