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Dasypeltis abyssina (DUMÉRIL, BIBRON & DUMÉRIL, 1854)

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Higher TaxaColubridae, Colubrinae, Colubroidea, Caenophidia, Alethinophidia, Serpentes, Squamata (snakes)
Common NamesE: Ethiopian egg eater
G: Äthiopische Eierschlange 
SynonymRachiodon abyssinus DUMÉRIL, BIBRON & DUMÉRIL 1854: 496
Rachiodon scaber var. abissinicus — JAN 1863: 106 (lapsus)
Dasypeltis abyssinicus — BLANFORD, 1870: 457 (lapsus)
Dasypeltis abyssinus BLANFORD 1870
Dasypeltis abyssina — FISCHER 1884: 48
Dasypeltis scabra var. D — BOULENGER 1893: 354 (not Linnaeus)
Dasypeltis scabra — CALABRESI 1925: 107
Dasypeltis abyssinicus — ZAVATTARI 1930: 193
Dasypeltis scabra — ZAVATTARI 1930: 193
Dasypeltis scabra — GANS 1959: 141 (part)
Dasypeltis abyssina — TRAPE & MANÉ 2006: 53
Dasypeltis abyssina — LARGEN & SPAWLS, 2010: 490
Dasypeltis abyssinica — WALLACH et al. 2014: 209
Dasypeltis abyssina — GÖTHEL 2015: 19
Dasypeltis abyssina — GÖTHEL 2015: 92
Dasypeltis abyssina — BATES & BROADLEY 2018: 38 

Type locality: “Abyssinie” [= Ethiopia]  
TypesLectotype: MNHN-RA 6567 
DiagnosisDiagnosis. Assigned to the genus Dasypeltis on account of its slender form, possession of (usually 3–4) rows of reduced, oblique, keeled and serrated lateral scales (little or no serration in D. inornata) and head barely distinct from the neck (moderately distinct in D. fasciata). Occurs as both patterned and uniform (brown or grey above, immaculate cream to cream-yellow below) phases. Patterned individuals are distinguished from other species of Dasypeltis by their unique dorsal and ventral colour patterns, dorsally consisting mostly of oblique dark saddles, usually wider than long, and often confluent or forming zigzags on the back and tail; lateral bars much-elongated, usually broader above than below, and typically extending onto the edges of the ventral plates, irregular in shape and often in contact with the pale interspaces between saddles, sometimes in narrow contact with the edges of the saddles; pattern cycles 65–98 (≤62 in D. crucifera sp. nov., D. taylori sp. nov. and D. bazi; D. inornatus always uniform brown above; D. gansi uniform or weakly marked above); and ventral scales with extensive black, grey or brown markings on their anterior half, consisting of a large rounded cone on either side joined to a smaller rounded cone in the centre (Gans 1959, Pl. 9, Fig. 7; Fig. 20B; some D. scabra have heavy dark markings on the venter, but never as extensive or in the same pattern as described above); in live specimens the labials and interspaces between saddles are cream-yellow (Fig. 20C–F) as illustrated for one of the two syntypes (MNHN 6567, see discussion below) which, in addition, apparently also had some yellow on the sides of the head (Duméril et al. 1854, Pl. 81): within the genus this combination of dark markings with extensive cream-yellow or yellow also occurs, occasionally, only in southern populations of D. scabra (e.g. Peters 1864; Göthel 2015h).
In addition to its colour pattern as described above, this species can also be distinguished by the following combination of characters: High ventral scale counts of 226–247 in males (higher or mostly higher than D. scabra 180–226, D. taylori sp. nov. 196–216, D. confusa 199–227, D. sahelensis 207–221, D. inornata 208–225, D. parascabra 210–223), 241–271 in females (higher or mostly higher than D. scabra 198–249, D. taylori sp. nov. 208–222, D. sahelensis 212–237, D. confusa 212–242, D. bazi 215–234, D. inornata 219–237, D. parascabra 224-237); Subcaudals 57–68 in males (mostly higher than D. loveridgei comb. nov. 47–58; lower or mostly lower than D. inornata 81–92, D. gansi 68–83, D. palmarum 68–77, D. parascabra 67–74, D. latericia 66–86, D. fasciata 59, 71–91, D. medici 69–109), 49–65 in females (mostly lower than D. inornata 69–84, D. fasciata 64–84, D. medici 61–90); Inter-prefrontal sulcus usually weakly marked (weakly to moderately marked in D. bazi, usually moderately marked in D. taylori sp. nov., moderate to well marked in D. arabica sp. nov., and variable in D. scabra [often well marked in the south of its range]); Frontal marginally pitted, usually State 1 or 2 (extensively pitted, States 3 & 4, in D. medici, D. taylori sp. nov. and many populations of D. scabra especially in the south of its range); Tail of moderate length: SVL/tail length 5.3–6.1 in males, 5.5–8.1 in females (in study area mostly greater than: D. medici 3.5–4.7 males, 4.5–5.7 females; D. fasciata 4.7–5.2 males, 4.8–6.4 females; see also Gans 1959); Nasal divided below the nostril (undivided in D. sahelensis and D. parascabra); Postoculars 2 on either side of head (often one, especially in western populations, of D. atra); Supralabials usually 7 (3rd and 4th enter orbit) on either side of head (usually 6[2,3] in D. loveridgei comb. nov.).
Ventral counts in D. abyssina are mostly higher (226– 247 in males; 241–271 in females) than the nearest populations of D. scabra in south-eastern Sudan and adjacent South Sudan (213; 222–227) and Ethiopia (212–218; 219–243), and much higher than D. taylori sp. nov. which occurs in northern Somalia and Djibouti (196–216; 208–222) (Appendix 1). Dorsally plain brown specimens are similar to the brown/grey phases of D. atra in north-eastern Africa and D. scabra in South Africa (e.g. De Waal 1978), although the venter may be yellowish-cream (MCZ 80984) rather than the usual plain cream. In addition, D. abyssina can often be separated from D. atra on account of its higher ventral counts (199–232 in atra males, 212–256 in females) and possession of two (rather than 1–2) postoculars on either side of the head. Plain phase D. abyssina are always distinguished from plain phase D. atra in Ethiopia (the only area where the two species are sympatric) by having higher ventral + subcaudal counts (both sexes, 294–323 [N =7] versus 269–291 [N = 5] respectively). 
CommentSynonymy: This species has been long synonymized with D. scabra but revalidated by TRAPE & MANÉ 2006.

Distribution: see map in GÖTHEL 2015: 19.

Sympatry. Sympatric with D. atra at Keriyo (Ethiopia).

Habitat. Open savannah in the Ethiopian Highlands at elevations of 1800–2450 m (Figs 21 & 22). A subadult male, BM, although having an ‘Arabia’ (e.g. Gans 1959, Appendix 1) label in its museum jar, was in fact collected at Senafe, Eritrea at 2450 m (Blan- ford 1870), probably in Juniperus coniferous forest. Keriyo, north of Addis Ababa, is the southern-most locality for this species, situated at an altitude of 2320 m (Spawls 2004). 
EtymologyNamed after the type locality. 
  • Bates, M.F. & D.G. Broadley 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 - get paper here
  • Blanford, W.T. 1870. Observations of the geology and zoology of Abyssinia, made 1867-68. McMillan (London), xii + 487 pp. - get paper here
  • Boulenger, G.A. 1893. Catalogue of the snakes in the British Museum (Nat. Hist.) I. London (Taylor & Francis), 448 pp. - get paper here
  • Calabresi,E. 1925. Anfibi e rettili raccolti dal Signor Ugo Ignesti nell'Abissinia settentrionale. Atti della Società Italiana di Scienze Naturali, e del Museo Civico di Storia Naturale, Milano 64: 100-109
  • Duméril, A.M.C., G. BIBRON & A.H.A. DUMÉRIL 1854. Erpétologie générale ou Histoire Naturelle complète des Reptiles. Vol. 7 (partie 1). Paris, xvi + 780 S. - get paper here
  • Fischer, J. G. 1884. Über einige afrikanische Reptilien, Amphibien und Fische des Naturhistorischen Museums I. Über die von Herrn Dr. G.A. Fischer in Massai Gebiete (Ost Afrika) auf seiner in Veranlassung der geographischen Gesellschaft in Hamburg unternommenen Expeditio Jahrb. Hamburg Wiss. Anst. 1: 1-32 - get paper here
  • Gans, C. 1959. A taxonomic revision of the African snake genus Dasypeltis (Reptilia: Serpentes). Annales du Musée Royal du Congo Belge Tervuren 74: ix + 237 pp.
  • Göthel, Helmut 2015. Die Eierschlangenarten Afrikas. Draco 16 (61): 78-92 - get paper here
  • Göthel, Helmut 2015. Nachzucht von Afrikanischen Eierschlangen. Draco 16 (61): 62-69 - get paper here
  • Göthel, Helmut 2015. Die Pazifisten unter den Schlangen – Afrikanische Eierschlangen der Gattung Dasypeltis. Draco 16 (61): 6-21 - get paper here
  • Jan, G. 1863. Elenco Sistematico degli Ofidi descriti e disegnati per l'Iconografia Generale. Milano, A. Lombardi. vii + 143 pp. - get paper here
  • Largen, M.J.; Spawls, S. 2010. Amphibians and Reptiles of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Edition Chimaira, Frankfurt, 694 pp.
  • TRAPE Jean-François and Youssouph MANÉ 2006. Le genre Dasypeltis Wagler (Serpentes : Colubridae) en Afrique de l’Ouest : description de trois espèces et d’une sous-espèce nouvelles. Bull. Soc. Herp. France 119: 27-56 - get paper here
  • Wallach, Van; Kenneth L. Williams , Jeff Boundy 2014. Snakes of the World: A Catalogue of Living and Extinct Species. [type catalogue] Taylor and Francis, CRC Press, 1237 pp.
  • ZAVATTARI, E. 1930. Gli animali velenosi della Colonia Eritrea. In: Bono, S.E.E. – Ministro delle Colonie – della Missione Scientifica per l’Eritrea (Parma) 8: 171–205
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