Three new species of egg-eating snakes described from north-eastern Africa and Arabia

Dr Michael Bates of the Herpetology Department at the National Museum and his co-author Dr Donald Broadley (Natural History Museum, Bulawayo) recently published an extensive review of the egg-eating snakes of north-eastern Africa and south-western Arabia. This article, published in the National Museum’s journal Indago, documents the occurrence of 10 species of egg-eating snakes in this region, and discusses variation in their appearance, scale characteristics and colour pattern. Three of these were described as new species. One of the new species, the Arabian Egg-eater (Dasypeltis arabica), has a distinctive pattern on the back consisting of a longitudinal series of dark rectangles interrupted at equal distances by whitish squares which are joined at the sides to dark markings. This snake is found only in the highlands of Saudi Arabia and Yemen, where it has evolved in isolation from other egg-eaters on the African continent. The authors also provide evidence that the poorly known Ethiopian Egg-eater (Dasypeltis abyssina) occurs throughout the highlands of north-western Ethiopia and part of Eritrea. Below these highlands, in northern Eritrea, another new species called the Cross-marked Egg-eater (Dasypeltis crucifera) was discovered. It is characterised by pale ‘X’ markings between the darker markings on its back (see photo below). A third new species, Taylor’s Egg-eater (Dasypeltis taylori), occurs only in arid areas of Somaliland and Djibouti. These snakes usually have large square or rectangular dark markings along the back. The article also provides colour photographs showing variation in colour pattern in some of the more common species. Dr Bates will continue his long-term studies on egg-eaters in other parts of Africa.

The article can be downloaded for free on the Museum’s website (see under ‘Museum Publications’). Hard copies can be purchased from the Museum’s library.

Bates, M.F. & Broadley, D.G. 2018. A revision of the egg-eating snakes of the genus Dasypeltis Wagler (Squamata: Colubridae: Colubrinae) in north-eastern Africa and south-western Arabia, with descriptions of three new species. Indago 34 (1): 1–95.

The Cross-marked Egg-eater (Dasypeltis crucifera), a newly described species from Eritrea.

(Photo: F. Tillack, Museum für Naturkunde Berlin)