Naming organisms is of vital importance for a variety of reasons. Firstly, once an organism is properly named, it is identified, can be discussed and, in modern times, enjoy protection, especially in the case of threatened or endangered species.
The biggest challenge with naming an organism is that it could have several different names and different organisms may even share the same name. The Cape Cobra is also called a Geelslang, Koper Kapél, Lappieslang and a few other names while some folks in Northwest Province also call the Snouted Cobra a Koper Kapél.
This problem was largely solved by Carl Linnaeus (1707 – 1778), a Swedish botanist, physician and zoologist who formalised binomial nomenclature, a modern system of naming organisms. This is referred to as taxonomy. Most of his writings were in Latin. The scientific name of the Cape Cobra, for example, is Naja nivea (written in italics or underlined) and consists of a genus (all of our cobras in South Africa are in the genus Naja) and a species (nivea). So, when a person speaks of Naja nivea, irrespective of what language that person speaks or what country he or she might be in, everyone knows which species they are referring to.
ASI Snake & Ladders
The latest from the African Snakebite Institute team is a Southern African version of Snakes and Ladders, complete with local snakes and interesting facts.
The first snakes to be described from South Africa were described by Linnaeus back in 1758. They were the Spotted Harlequin Snake (Homoroselaps lacteus), the Aurora Snake (Lamprophis aurora), the Common Slug-eater (Duberria lutrix), the Mole Snake (Pseudaspis cana), the Cape Cobra (Naja nivea), the Yellow-bellied Sea Snake (Hydrophis platura), Berg Adder (Bitis atropos) and the Rhombic Egg-eater (Dasypeltis scabra).
The 1800s were far more productive and no less than 80 snakes were described from South Africa. Things slowed down in the 1900s with 29 snakes described, the last one to be described being Jacobsen’s Thread Snake (Leptotyphlops jacobseni) which was described in 1999.
In 2013 Wulf Haacke described a new Tiger Snake from northern Namibia which is called the Damara Tiger Snake (Telescopus finkeldeyi). He had become aware of this new species more than ten years prior to the official description but these things can take time.
Damara Tiger Snake (Telescopus finkeldeyi) described in 2013 by Wulf Haacke.
While there is no doubt that there are still some undescribed snakes in southern Africa, most of them are cryptic species that superficially resemble well-known species. Reptile scientists become aware of such species when looking at DNA and this is evident from three new species of House Snakes recently described from Namibia and Angola.
Kids Trainee-Snake Catcher Tees. Now in stock!
The newest addition to our extensive clothing range. Available in blue and pink in sizes 12-24 months to 13-14 years.
Two of the newly-described House Snakes enter our range in northern Namibia, the Zambezi House Snake (Boaedon fradei) and the Variegated House Snake (Boaedon variegatus). The Zambezi House Snake differs from the other house snakes in that it is usually a very dark brown colour with thin white lines on the head and fewer scales on the belly. Telling the Variegated House Snake apart from the others is far more difficult as it usually has three scales on the upper lip that touch the eye whereas others usually have less. Scale counting can be quite technical, and it is not easy for snake enthusiasts that do not have knowledge of snake scales and how to count them.
The newly described Zambezi House Snake (Boaedon fradei) from the Caprivi, Namibia.
The ASI Essential First Aid for Snakebite Kitcontains the following items:
A Bug-eyed House Snake (yes, it has big eyes like a bug!) was described from Namaqualand back in 1888 but over the years it was synonymised with the Common Brown House Snake (Boaedon capensis). This snake has been restored to its former glory and is now a recognised species (Boaedon mentalis), occurring in Namaqualand, southern Namibia, northern Namibia and southern Angola.
The Bug-eyed House Snake (Boaedon mentalis) from Namaqualand, South Africa.
Taxonomists are currently looking at the genetics of a variety of southern African snakes and we can expect a number of changes in the near future. The use of DNA has made it far easier for taxonomists to answer various questions about snake species, especially family relationships. This, for example, has resulted in the Olive Snake (formerly Olive House Snake) being moved from the genus Lamprophis to Lycodonomorphus as it is more closely related to the Water Snakes.
The addition of these new species, and some newly documented range extensions into our subregion, has pushed the number of snake species and subspecies in southern Africa from 171 to 175, and counting.
The ASI Snakes app has passed the 100 000 downloads mark!
In just under 2 years the free ASI Snakes app has had over 100 000 downloads, making it one of the top reference apps in Africa!
A few of the hugely popular features includes the Snake Profiles and Easy IDs, the list of over 600 snake removers throughout Southern Africa, the Request an ID section, local species and the 30 page First Aid for Snakebite Booklet.
Check out our video on What to Expect on a Snake Awareness Course:
Johan Marais is the author of various books on reptiles including the best-seller A Complete Guide to Snakes of Southern Africa. He is a popular public speaker and offers a variety of courses including Snake Awareness, Scorpion Awareness and Venomous Snake Handling. Johan is accredited by the International Society of Zoological Sciences (ISZS) and is a Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA) and Travel Doctor-approved service provider. His courses are also accredited by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA). Johan is a qualified instructor for the Emergency Care & Safety Institute, in Oxygen Administration and Wilderness First Aid.