Common eggeater

Dasypeltis scabra

SUBFAMILY

Colubrinae

TAXONOMY

Coluber scaber Linnaeus, 1758, Indiis. Two subspecies are sometimes recognized.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: African egg-eater, rhombic egg-eater.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

This snake is about 20-35 in (50-90 cm) in length. It is a very slender snake with a narrow head; the dorsal scales are keeled, and the keels are serrated on the lower lateral scales. The color varies but is usually gray or brown, with prominent dark blotches down the center of the back and narrower ones on the sides. The jaws are nearly toothless, the skin of the neck is capable of an astonishing degree of stretching, and the anterior vertebrae are modified to crack the shells of bird eggs.

DISTRIBUTION

Widely distributed throughout sub-Saharan Africa. HABITAT

The common egg-eater occupies a range of habitats, exclusive of the driest deserts and wettest tropical forests.

BEHAVIOR

The common egg-eater mimics various species of vipers in different parts of its range. Mimicry of the saw-scaled viper (Echis carinatus) involves not only appearance but behavior. Like that viper, the egg-eater throws its body into a series of curved loops and rubs the serrated lateral scales against each other to produce a hissing sound.

Dasypeltis Echis Carinatus

I Dispholidus typus I Dasypeltis scabra

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

This snake feeds exclusively on bird eggs, and its morphology is highly modified for that diet. The head is forced over an egg, which may be several times the diameter of the head, and the egg is cracked using modified ventral processes (hy-papophyses) of the anterior vertebrae, which actually penetrate the esophagus. The liquid contents of the egg are swallowed, and the shell is crushed and regurgitated. The egg-eater feeds heavily in the spring and summer, when birds are nesting.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

The common egg-eater is oviparous, with a clutch size of six to 25 eggs.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not listed by the IUCN.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

The common egg-eater may be mistaken as a venomous snake, due to its mimicry of several species of vipers ♦

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