||Psammophylax tritaeniatus tritaeniatus (GÜNTHER,
Psammophylax tritaeniatus subniger LAURENT 1956
Psammophylax tritaeniatus vanoyei LAURENT 1956
Psammophylax tritaeniatus fitgeraldi (colour variant)? (see Uetz
et al. 2006)
P. t. festivus, subniger, vanoyei fide Jirka
Schmidt (pers. comm.). The status of the subspecies seems unclear.
||Category: least concern. Motivation: "Psammophylax
tritaeniatus has been assessed as Least Concern due to its wide
distribution throughout eastern and southern Africa with the absence
of any major threats. Furthermore, this species has been described
as common. No conservation measures are required."
||E: Striped Skaapsteker, Three-lined grass snake,
Thite-bellied grass snake
G: Gestreifter Shaapsteker.
Broadley 1959: "Native name of Three-lined Grass-Snake.
N'shwazi (Sinde-bele), but also applied to Psammophis s.
||Rhagerrhis tritaeniatus GÜNTHER 1868: 423
Rhagerhis tritaeniata — BOCAGE 1896: 112
Psammophylax tritaeniatus — AUERBACH 1987: 163
Psammophylax tritaeniatus — BROADLEY 1998
Psammophylax tritaeniatus tritaeniatus (GÜNTHER 1868)
Rhagerrhis tritaeniatus GÜNTHER 1868: 423
Psammophylax tritaeniatus — PETERS 1869: 661
Coronella tritaeniata GÜNTHER 1881: 329
Trimerorhinus tritaeniatus — BOULENGER 1896: 139 (part.)
Cerastes tritaeniatus tritaeniatus — MERTENS 1930: 14
Psammophylax tritaeniatus tritaeniatus — BROADLEY 1959
Psammophylax tritaeniatus tritaeniatus — FITZSIMONS 1966
partly after FITZSIMONS 1966.
"Variation. (56 specimens.) Midbody scale rows 17; ventrals
150-168; anal divided; subcaudals 54-67; upper labials 8, the fourth
and fifth entering the orbit; lower labials 9-11, the first five,
rarely four or six, in contact with the anterior sublinguals;
preocular 1; postoculars 2; temporals 2+3, rarely 2+21. Tail length
.19 to .22 of the total."
"Colouration. Top of head light brown; vertebral scale row
dark brown, the superior halves of' the scales flanking it are
black, forming a sharp-edged vertebral stripe 2 scales wide; this is
tianked by a pale brown, grey or yellowish stripe 3 scales wide
followed by another dark brown, black-edged stripe 3 scales wide,
which begins at the snout and runs through the eye; outer l½
scale rows white, with a broken orange or pinkish line
running through the outer row. Upper labials, chin and throat white;
underside white, cream or lemon yellow, with somo salmon or pink
flecking at the ends of the ventrals.
Size. Largest (SM/R.70) 851 (680+171) mm. from Salisbury.
Smallest 172 (140+32) mm. from Essexvale.
||NE Namibia, N Botswana, Zimbabwe, NE Republic of
South Africa, Angola, S Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, S Democratic
Republic of the Congo (Zaire), Zambia, Mozambique
Type locality: Southern Africa.
subniger: SE Democratic Republic of the Congo (Zaire), Burundi,
Rwanda; Type locality: “Kipiri, 2000 m [elevation], plateau des
Marungu, Terr. de Baudouinville, Tanganika”
vanoyei: NE Democratic Republic of the Congo (Zaire); Type locality:
“Blukwa, Terr. de Djugu, Ituri”
Region according to the TDWG
standard, not a precise distribution map:
On S.A. Reptiles,
Mitton states: "This is the snake I have found the most of in
the areas I used to go looking for snakes, have found up to 6 in 1
day." And Snake-5: "I have caught 17 in one day at the sand pan in
Benoni before they started developing it."
rats and mice) and occasionally nestling
Young specimens feed on
frogs and lizards (particularly skinks).
"Diet.The huge Salisbury specimen, recorded above, contained
a partially digested rat. Captive specimens took mice (Rhabdomys and Leggada sp.) ; lizards (Chamacleo d. dilepis
juv.; Mabuya s. striata; Mabuya v. varia; Mabuya q.
margaritifer: Agama h. distanti), and frogs (Kassina
senegalensis; Breviceps mossambicus; Rana spp.)."
On S.A. Reptiles,
Bushviper states about hatchlings: "I would not even try to
raise these guys. Far easy to wait till they have shed and then
release them back where the parents came from.
I have tried with hatchlings that I found but they want a steady
supply of baby skinks. This means they get taken back rather rapidly."
In captivity: a P. t. t. was reported to feed entirely on
fish (minnows and barbel). They were not taken in the water, but
when they had jumped out of the water and died. They were even eaten
when dried out. Eating of fish was also observed in the wild, with a
P. t. variabilis. See Newman,
'Some African Folk-lore regarding snakes'
||"This snake inhabits open grassland and savanna (Branch
1998, Spawls et al. 2002). Marais (1992) also reports that
it favours vleis (seasonal water bodies) and is commonly found under
building rubble and other debris near towns. In grassland areas, it
is found in moribund termitaria and under rocks (De Waal 1978)."(IUCN)
Oviparous (egg laying), lays between 5 and 18
eggs in summer.
Snake-5 on S.A. Reptiles: "They also protect their eggs but i
have found they move off when disturbed then return a while later.
One of the best moments in my life was finding a nest of eggs busy
hatching one early morning about 5years back on a farm next to the
R21 highway at the benoni off ramp where they are developing now i
still have it on vhs cassette somewhere. i have also been nailed
many times and the worst thats happened was a swolen finger and some
pain for the next 2-4 days."
"Breeding. A captive 9 froni West Nicholson, 728 mm. in
length, laid 4 eggs between 27th and 30th November, when she died
with 10 eggs still in her ovaries."
||The venom of this snake is weak and unlikely to
have any effect on maN.
Broadley 1959: "This species rarely attempts to bite when captured."
||Broadley 1959: "When basking, this snake's body
becomes kinked in a most unnatural manner. The first time I observed
this phenomenon was when I found a 20" specimen basking on a
sand-bank of the Himyani River at Sinoia. I thought that the snake
was dead and it made 110 movement until I picked it up, appear-ing
to be completely oblivious of its surroundings. I have since
observed the same behaviour in many snakes both in captivity and in
the wild state. This habit may account for many of the Striped
Grass-Snakes killed on the roads and must make the species very
vulnerable to the numerous birds of prey."
Remarkable is an
awkward way of locomotion, illustrated in this picture:
Notes from a discussion on Facebook in the Psammophidae group (July
12, 2020), quotes from Toy Todbijl:
"… honestly, its been half a century ago, I can't remember all
the details anymore. The OP jogged my memory a bit. But, yes, that
is what Psammophilax tritaeniatus & P. rhombeatus do. I have not
observed it in any of the Psammophis species in South Africa.
The 'Psammophylax' movement pattern in the OP is evident when they
are just ambling along in a straight direction without being in a
hurry; a 'homologue' of the rib/ventral scale ambulation seen in
Puff Adders or Gaboon Adders when they are just unhurriedly moving
along in a straight direction. The Psammophylax exhibit their
squiggly motion on tarmac roads as well as soil. When they realise
they've been spotted, they freeze in that squiggly pattern to escape
detection, but if pursued, they dart forward in wide, sweeping
movements before disappearing in rank herbaceous vegetation where
they'll stop; or if on tarmac roads where there is no cover, they
speed up their pace by making wide, sweeping movements like
Psammophis do. In captivity, you don't get to see the characteristic
'Psammophylax lateral undulating' movement. Another snake that
alters its movement are Male Gaboon Adders during the mating season.
Being nocturnal & largely sedentary, you never get to appreciate how
this changes when they actively search for females! I followed a
male with a radio-transmitter implant for 800 m in one day & instead
of winding around grass tussocks, he chose to go over them at pace,
resembling a dolphin riding waves.
... they MOVE in that position. The faster they move, the more
exaggerated the pattern, with fewer horizontal undulations until the
pattern becomes more sweeping. I catch snakes, so I know what I've
- Auerbach,R.D. 1987. The Amphibians and Reptiles of Botswana.
Mokwepa Consultants, Botswana, 295 pp.
- Bauer, Aaron M.; Branch, William R. & Haacke, Wulf D. 1993.
The herpetofauna of the Kamanjab area and adjacent Damaraland,
Namibia. Madoqua (Windhoek), 18 (2): 117-145.
- Bocage, J. V. Barboza du. 1896. Mammiferos, aves e reptis da
Hanha, no sertào de Benguella. Jornal de Sciencias Mathematicas,
Physîcas e Naturaes, Lisboa (2) 14: 105-114.
- Bocage, J.V.B. de 1897. Mammiferos, aves e reptis da Hanha,
no sertào de Benguella. (Segunda lista). Jornal de Sciencias
Mathematicas, Physîcas e Naturaes, Lisboa (2) 14: 207-211
- Branch, W.R. 2008. PROPOSED KALUKUNDI MINE (DEMOCRATIC
REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO) - TERRESTRIAL FAUNA. ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT
ASSESSMENT REPORT (FINAL REPORT). A specialist report for
Envirolution Consulting (Pty) Ltd., 83 pp.
- Branch, William R. 1993. A Photographic Guide to Snakes and
Other Reptiles of Southern Africa. Cape Town: Struik Publishers,
- Broadley, D. G. & HOWELL, K. M. 1991. A check list of the
reptiles of Tanzania, with synoptic keys. Syntarsus 1: 1—70
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Striped Skaapsteker or Three-lined Snake, Psammophylax (formerly
Trimerorhinus) tritaeniatus. Afr. Wild Life 10: 215-216.
- Broadley, D.G. 1959. The herpetology of Southern Rhodesia.
Part I--the snakes Bull. Mus. Comp. Zool. Harvard 120 (1): 1-100
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Distr., Northw. Zambia. Arnoldia Zimbabwe 9 (37): 519-538
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Noble, G.K., Contributions to the Herpetology of the Belgian
Congo... [reprint of the 1919 and 1923 papers]. SSAR Facsimile
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Zambia. An Atlas and Field Guide. Edition Chimaira, Frankfurt,
280 pp. [review in Sauria 26 (3): 21]
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the snakes of southern Africa. Annals of the Transvaal Museum 25
(3): 35-79 -
get paper here
- Günther, A. 1868. Sixth account of new species of snakes in
the collection of the British Museum. Ann. Mag. nat. Hist. (4)
1: 413-429 -
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
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tritaeniatus) - Porträt einer Rarität in der Terraristik Elaphe
6 (1): 17-22
- Laurent, RAYMOND F. 1956. Notes herpetologiques africaines
I. Rev. Zool. Bot. Africaine 52 (3-4): 229-256
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région des Grandes Lacs de l'Afrique centrale. Ann. Mus. Roy.
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Journal of the Herpetological Association of Rhodesia,Volume 20,
Issue 1, March 1963, pages 11-12
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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
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field guide to the reptiles of East Africa. Academic Press, 543
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