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African Burrowing Snakes: Atractaspididae

Southern Burrowing Asp (atractaspis Bibronii): Species Account

Physical characteristics: Also known as Bibron's burrowing asp or the side-stabbing snake, the southern burrowing asp has backward-curved fangs at the front of its mouth. This snake has a thick body, with smooth, purplish-brown to black scales down its back and, usually, a dark-gray belly. A few have dark blotches on a whitish to cream-colored belly. Females can reach 24.4 inches (62 centimeters) in length, and males can grow to about 26 inches (66 centimeters).

Geographic range: This snake is found in the southern half of Africa.

Southern burrowing asps usually remain underground, but sometimes they come to the surface at night after a rainstorm. (Illustration by Bruce Worden. Reproduced by permission.)

Habitat: These snakes spend much of their lives underground in savannas, flat plains covered with grass and a few trees. They also live in dry, nearly desert habitats and near the coast in thick, brushy areas.

Diet: The southern burrowing asp eats other reptiles, rodents, and frogs.

Behavior and reproduction: True to their name, these snakes can dig through the soil. Much of their digging is done to make hollow compartments under rocks. They usually remain underground, but sometimes they come to the surface at night after a rainstorm. They have an unusual smell, but scientists still are unsure if that smell has any purpose, such as attracting mates or scaring off attackers. In the summer female southern burrowing asps each lay four to eleven oblong eggs, which hatch into 6-inch-long (15-centimeter-long) young snakes.

Southern burrowing asps and people: When people and burrowing asps live in the same area, snakebites are somewhat common. A bite can lead to pain and swelling, but it will not kill humans.

Conservation status: This species is not endangered or threatened. ∎



Branch, Bill. Field Guide to Snakes and Other Reptiles of Southern Africa. Sanibel Island, FL: Ralph Curtis Books, 1998.

Lovett, Sarah. Extremely Weird Snakes. Santa Fe, NM: John Muir Publications, 1999.

Mattison, Chris. The Encyclopedia of Snakes. New York: Facts on File, 1995.

Montgomery, Sy. The Snake Scientist. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001.

Spawls, Stephen, and Bill Branch. The Dangerous Snakes of Africa: Natural History, Species Directory, Venoms, and Snakebite. Sanibel Island, FL: Ralph Curtis Books, 1995.

Spawls, Stephen, et al. A Field Guide to the Reptiles of East Africa: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi. San Diego: Academic Press, 2002.

Web sites:

"Ecoviews: Africa Really Does Have Some Dangerous Snakes." University of Georgia Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. http://www.uga.edu/srelherp/ecoview/Eco16.htm (accessed on August 26, 2004).

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceDinosaurs, Snakes, and Other ReptilesAfrican Burrowing Snakes: Atractaspididae - Physical Characteristics, Diet, Behavior And Reproduction, African Burrowing Snakes And People, Southern Burrowing Asp (atractaspis Bibronii): Species Account - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, CONSERVATION STATUS