|Higher Taxa||Lamprophiidae, Psammophiinae, Serpentes (snakes)|
|Common Names||E: Spotted Skaapsteker, Rhombic Skaapsteker
G: Gefleckter Shaapsteker, Rhomben-Skaapsteker
D: Gevlekte skaapsteker
Comment: its common name, meaning 'sheep stabber' or 'sheep stinger', is misleading as its small teeth are set so far back in the jaw and its neurotoxic venom is so mild, that it is incapable of killing any large animal. See Wikipedia.
|Synonym||?Coluber rhombeatus LINNAEUS 1758: 220
? Dipsas rhombeatus — DUMÉRIL & BIBRON 1854: 1154
Psammophylax rhombeatus ocellatus [BOCAGE 1873] (fide FITZSIMONS 1966)
Psammophylax rhombeatus — FISCHER 1881: 228
Psammophis longementalis ROUX 1907: 736
Psammophylax rhombeatus rhombeatus — BOYCOTT 1992
Psammophylax rhombeatus — MATTISON 1995: 225
Psammophylax rhombeatus — MATTISON 2007: 249
|Distribution||S Namibia, Republic of South Africa, Lesotho,
Swaziland, SW Angola.
The following map is taken from Cottone, Amanda M. and Aaron M. Bauer, 2010. Many localities correspond to multiple specimens. Circles and triangles denote mesic and xeric zones, respectively. Shaded portion represents winter rainfall zone and non-shaded portion summer rainfall zone.
|Description||It is a small, attractively patterned snake, usually
measuring between 45 and 85 centimetres in length, though occasionally
reaching 140 cm.
Colour: greyish to yellowish brown or olive-brown, with 3-4 rows of dark, rhombus-shaped spots along its back, which may merge to form a zig-zag pattern. The colour and patterning may be quite variable. Its underside is yellowish-white, with the top of the head being uniform brownish.
Photographs: see page.
Males tend to reach a slightly (some 12%) larger adult size than females (Cottone/Bauer 2010).
Picture by Tyrone James Ping (Facebook, Snakes of South Africa): this colour variant is common in the regio of Glen Austin, Johannesburg.
Cottone and Bauer (2010) investigated the diet of specimens along
the west coast: "The diet of P. r. rhombeatus included a wide spectrum
of taxa, incorporating two mammalian families, three anuran families,
and four lizard families, with 64% of all items extracted being
ectothermic." And: "Specimens of Psammophylax r. rhombeatus exhibited an
ontogenetic shift in prey type. Snakes of smaller SVL fed more
frequently on arthropods, amphibians, and/or lizards while larger snakes
fed more often on mammals."
Concerning seasonable shifts in choice of prey: "This species did not display any significant difference in feeding frequencies across winter, spring, summer, or fall collection dates."
Captive bred juveniles are
regrettably reluctant in accepting standard prey items like nestling
mice. For instance, one of two juveniles in my possession accepted after
some weeks pieces of nestling mouse, and later on dead complete pinkies.
The other one still needed to be forcefed after 11 months.
|Behaviour||Aan interesting example of behaviour is given by
Cottone and Bauer (2008)
who observed a case of prey excavation.
In captivity, this snake is normally quiet and non-agressive.
|Reproductive biology||Male Psammophylax r. rhombeatus mature around the same
size as females (34.9 and 36.3 cm SVL, respectively (Cottone-Bauer
2010). Males from the Free State reportedly experience testicular
regression during the South
African winter months, while producing sperm throughout the rest of the
year (Flemming and Douglas, 1997). Based on our data (with winter months
containing lowest frequency males with sperm in their efferent ducts,
males throughout the entire range of the species probably follow similar
spermiogenic patterns (Cottone-Bauer 2010).
There is no temporal separation between vitellogenesis (which begins during winter/spring) and mating. Mating immediately follows vitellogenesis.
Clutch sizes for P. r. rhombeatus were in the research of Cottone and Bauer no greater than 12 eggs. On the other hand, Broadley (1983) reported that up to 30 eggs could be laid at a time, and other specific accounts (Bates, 1985; Creighton and Haagner, 1987; DeVilliers, 1995) report clutch sizes of 11–17 eggs.
The high counts could be attributed to communal laying of two or even more females. On the other hand, Tyrone says: "The eggs are small and some skaapstekers can reach up to just over a metre. These specimens were small (+-60cm) and the smaller individual laid 13 eggs. I've seen a large specimen lay 22 eggs in captivity."
Dustin Henrico: "Communal nesting sites are something I find quit
frequently with Spotted/Rhombic Skaapstekers in a number of locations. I
have found as many as 6 females under a slab of concrete around their
individual clutches of eggs. I have also they also seem to use the same
sites regularly each season . Your photo above seems to show evidence of
this behavior . Would be interesting to find out if the same individual
snakes return to the same nest sites each season?" (Facebook group
Snakes of South Africa, June 27, 2016).
For more wonderful pictures of this species do go to the
website of Tyrone James Ping at
Both Dustin and Tyrone observed the females still coiled
around the eggs, a behaviour that has been described of this snake.
|Toxicity||Not considered dangerous for humans.|
|CB 2011, adult||Hugo de Wet, Facebook group Snakes of South Africa: "About 30 cm long, Montagu W Cape." April 2015.|
|CB 2011, adult, click for video||Bazil Kirton, Facebook group Snakes of South Africa, Sept. 22, 2016.|
|Bazil Kirton, Facebook group Snakes of South Africa, Sept. 22, 2016||Bazil Kirton, Facebook group Snakes of South Africa, Sept. 22, 2016|