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Psammophis zambiensis HUGHES, 2002

Common Names Zambian Whip Snake 
Synonym Psammophis sibilans — PITMAN 1934: 297 (not LINNAEUS 1758) (part.)
Dromophis lineatus — LAURENT 1956: 247 (not DUMÉRIL & BIBRON)
Psammophis ? sibilans — BROADLEY & PITMAN 1960: 445
Psammophis brevirostris leopardinus — BROADLEY 1971: 88;
Psammophis sibilans leopardinus — BROADLEY 1977: 18
Psammophis brevirostris leopardinus — BRANDSTÄTTER 1995: 53,
Psammophis brevirostris leopardinus — BRANDSTÄTTER 1996: 48
Psammophis brevirostris leopardinus — HAAGNER et al. 2000:16.
Psammophis zambiensis HUGHES 2002
Psammophis zambiensis — BROADLEY & COTTERILL 2004 
Distribution Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo (Katanga)

Type locality: supposedly from 'Abercorn' (now Mbala) area of Zambia

Map from Hughes and Wade 2002.

"the snake was first discovered in Zambia in 2002 and previously only recorded from 7 locations in Zambia and the the DRC, and recorded for the first time in Malawi last year." (Gary Brown, East African Snakes & other reptiles, March 2015).
 

Types BMNH 1959.1.1.81, part of the H.I. Breda collection, sent on from Brussels, but likely to be from Mweru-Wantip. 
Description Hughes and Wade 2002: “Bocage (1887:206) described from Catumbela, Angola a Psammophis (MBL 1798, now destroyed) with a striking reticular pattern on the neck and anterior part of the body as a variety of Psammophis sibilans, a taxonomic treatment later followed by Broadley (1977). More recently Brandstatter (1995, 1996: Fig. 4) has recognised P. sibilans as occurring no further south than the northern part of Tanzania and has treated Bocage's variety as P. brevirostris leopardinus, following an earlier practice by Broadley ( 1 97 1 ). He has followed Broadley (op. cit.) in assigning to this subspecies Zambian specimens showing the same reticular pattern on the neck. However, such a pattern occurs sporadically elsewhere, as in West African specimens of P. sibilans (BMNH 1930.6.5.8 from Mogonori, Ghana; 1956.1.5.87 from Ikoyi, Lagos, Nigeria; CM 24636 from Accra; MNHN 1 985.442-3 from Ghana; ZMH R04466 from Gana Gana or Segbana, Niger Delta, Nigeria: these have neck bars sometimes interconnected as in leopardinus. Dependence on pattern for identification in a genus whose species are notorious for their variability is unconvincing. In an attempt to find other, more reliable criteria by which to distinguish species of Psammophis, total tooth counts were undertaken and revealed significant differences between specimens of ''leopardinus'' from Angola and those from Zambia. Secondly, the Zambian specimens are often of a colour pattern rarely met with elsewhere during the study of several thousand specimens from all parts of Africa and the Middle East. Thirdly, the ventral and subcaudal counts of the Zambian specimens are lower than those from neighbouring localities in Zambia and Congo-Kinshasa. Fourthly, a SEM micrograph of a dorsal scale of a specimen from Ikelenge (Brandstatter, 1995: Fig. 39) differs considerably from those of species assigned to the P. sibilans complex. For these reasons, it is thought necessary to coin a new name for the Zambian specimens.`

Diagnosis. Hughes and Wade 2002: "Often distinguished by a combination of the reticular body pattern of leopardinus but lacking the higher tooth counts of the latter (Table L). A detailed description of colouration, based on 5 specimens, is given by Broadley & Pitman (1960:445) but can be summed up by saying that they are greenish rather than the usual khaki-brown and the scales heavily edged in black. Unlike associated specimens of P.'sibilans' the vertebral 'chain' is more like a stripe, the lighter marking on each vertebral scale being more of a line than a spot; and behind the eyes the head is crossed by three transverse light bars - a common feature in many Psammophis spp. but these are narrow, as in Pangolensis or Dromophis lineatus. Smaller specimens (e.g. Fig. 2-3) are more distinctly marked with greater contrast around the body. As Haagner et al (2000) have
noticed, the reticular neck pattern is not always present and these specimens are distinguished from 'sibilans' by their lower ventral counts and usually by lower subcaudal counts (Table 2). Brandstatter (1995: Fig. 39) has provided a SEM micrograph of a dorsal scale from a P. zambiensis paratype NMZB 10636, and the micro-ornamentation resembles that of Dromophis lineatus (his Fig. 83) more than any species of the P. sibilans complex."

Belly of adult holotype (Hughes and Wade 2002) Belly of juvenile paratype (Hughes and Wade 2002)
Habitat "Unfortunately, no field notes are available for this species, but the fact that many specimens appear to have originated from the Mweru-Wantipa suggests that it requires a marshy habitat like Dromophis lineatus, with which it is sympatric in this area (Broadley & Pitman, 1959). In the Ikelenge area there there are many suitable dambos and one local specimen had eaten an Eumecia anchietae, a large skink that frequents such places (Broadley, 1991). The Sanolumba snake had eaten a ranid frog (Haagner et ai, 2000)."
References
  • Hughes, B. and E. Wade, 2002. On the African leopard whip snake, Psammophis leopardinus Bocage, 1887 (Serpentes, Colubridae), with the description of a new species from Zambia. Bull. nat. Hist. Mus. Lond (Zool.), 68(2): 75-81
  • 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

Pictures

A beautiful Psammophis zambiensis, by Gary Brown, in the Facebook group East African Snakes & other reptiles.
From Viphya Plateau (1600m) N. Malawi. Midbody 17, ventral 149, sub caudals paired 77, vent divided, upper labials 8 (4+5), lower labials 7, pre ocular 1, post ocular 2, temporals 2+2. Total length 80cm, svl 60cm.
A beautiful Psammophis zambiensis, by Gary Brown, in the Facebook group East African Snakes & other reptiles.
From Viphya Plateau (1600m) N. Malawi. Midbody 17, ventral 149, sub caudals paired 77, vent divided, upper labials 8 (4+5), lower labials 7, pre ocular 1, post ocular 2, temporals 2+2. Total length 80cm, svl 60cm.
A beautiful Psammophis zambiensis, by Gary Brown, in the Facebook group East African Snakes & other reptiles.
From Viphya Plateau (1600m) N. Malawi. Midbody 17, ventral 149, sub caudals paired 77, vent divided, upper labials 8 (4+5), lower labials 7, pre ocular 1, post ocular 2, temporals 2+2. Total length 80cm, svl 60cm.
A beautiful Psammophis zambiensis, by Gary Brown, in the Facebook group East African Snakes & other reptiles.
From Viphya Plateau (1600m) N. Malawi. Midbody 17, ventral 149, sub caudals paired 77, vent divided, upper labials 8 (4+5), lower labials 7, pre ocular 1, post ocular 2, temporals 2+2. Total length 80cm, svl 60cm.
A beautiful Psammophis zambiensis, by Gary Brown, in the Facebook group East African Snakes & other reptiles.
From Viphya Plateau (1600m) N. Malawi. Midbody 17, ventral 149, sub caudals paired 77, vent divided, upper labials 8 (4+5), lower labials 7, pre ocular 1, post ocular 2, temporals 2+2. Total length 80cm, svl 60cm.
Another specimens, photographed in 2014 by the same photographer, Gary Brown. This one is still heavier marked.

 

Sources

(1) The Reptile Database