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Psammophylax tritaeniatus (GÜNTHER, 1868)

Subspecies Psammophylax tritaeniatus tritaeniatus (GÜNTHER, 1868)
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.
IUCN 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."
Common Names 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. subtaeniatus."
Synonym 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 

Synonymy partly after FITZSIMONS 1966. 

Description Broadley 1959:
"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."

idem:
"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.

 

Distribution 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."

Food Feeds on rodents (e.g. rats and mice) and occasionally nestling birds. Young specimens feed on frogs and lizards (particularly skinks). 

Broadley 1959:
"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'

Habitat "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)
Reproduction

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."

Broadley 1959:
"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."
 

Venom 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."
 
Behaviour 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."
 
References
  • 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, 144 S.
  • 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. 1956. Snakes of Southem Rhodesia. 1. The 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 [reprint 1972]
  • Broadley, D.G. 1991. The Herpetofauna of Northern Mwinilunga Distr., Northw. Zambia. Arnoldia Zimbabwe 9 (37): 519-538
  • Broadley, D.G. 1998. The reptilian fauna of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo-Kinshasa). In: Schmidt, K.P. and Noble, G.K., Contributions to the Herpetology of the Belgian Congo... [reprint of the 1919 and 1923 papers]. SSAR Facsimile reprints in Herpetology, 780 pp.
  • 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.
  • Chifundera, K. 1990. Snakes of Zaire and their bites. Afr. Stud. Monogr. (Kyoto) 10(3): 137-157.
  • Fitzsimons, V. 1966. A check-list, with syntopic keys, to 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
  • Hartmann, Jörg 1998. Der Gestreifte Shaapsteker (Psammophylax 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
  • Laurent,R.F. 1956. Contribution à l'herpetologie de la région des Grandes Lacs de l'Afrique centrale. Ann. Mus. Roy. Congo Belge (Sci. Zool.), 48: 1-390
  • Newman, A. C. Some African Folk-Lore Regarding Snakes. In: Journal of the Herpetological Association of Rhodesia,Volume 20, Issue 1, March 1963, pages 11-12
  • 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]
 
External links  

Pictures

Picture by Marlize Engelbrecht Brickhill‎, in the Facebook group Snakes of Namibia, March 2015. Picture by Marlize Engelbrecht Brickhill‎, in the Facebook group Snakes of Namibia, March 2015.
"Striped skaapsteker i removed from sesriem street kleine kuppe a few minuts ago." Francois Theart in the Facebook group Snakes of Namibia, April 2015. Photo by Ethne Engelking, Namibia.
Photo by Ethne Engelking, Namibia. Photo by Ethne Engelking, Namibia.
Picture by Jürgen Cronje in the FB group ‎Snakes of Namibia, 4 May 2015. Namibia. Windhoek.    

Sources