Small-scaled burrowing asp

Small-scaled burrowing asp

Small-scaled burrowing asp

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Atractaspis microlepidota

The small-scaled burrowing asp (Atractaspis microlepidota ) is a species of atractaspidid snake from West Africa.


Atractaspis microlepidota is black in color, with the ventral (belly) side having a lighter, “flatter” tone than that of the dorsal (back) side. The body scales are smooth. The head is flattened and contains a blunt snout. The neck of Atractaspis is not well defined, and the tail is relatively short. One of the differences between Atractaspis and Viperidae is the fact that the head of Atractaspis is covered in plates, rather than small scales like those of Viperidae. The average size is about 18 inches (45 cm), with some growing up to 30 inches (75 cm).

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Atractaspis microlepidota has from 29 to 37 rows of dorsal scales, more rows than any other species of Atractaspis. Ventrals 212–245; anal entire; subcaudals 26–37, entire. Six upper labials, third and fourth entering the eye and largest.

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Biogeographical realms

Atractaspis microlepidota is found in Senegal, Gambia, southern Mauritania, and western Mali. Notice that this species was formerly considered more widespread; forms and subspecies now considered distinct have been included in Atractaspis microlepidota.


Habits and Lifestyle

Snakes of the genus Atractaspis generally do not have many behavioral characteristics that separate them greatly from other snakes, but they have a few. One trait is that they like to burrow, which isn't that odd, however they like to sit still with their nose facing towards the ground, as if it were ready to “leap” into the ground. However, this behavior has only been observed a few times. Atractaspis microlepidota, along with other species of Atractaspis, have not been extensively researched, so data pertaining to the diet of Atractaspis is scant. However, Atractaspis have typically been found with small rodents, birds, lizards, frogs, locusts and white ants in their stomachs or mouths. Some of the feeding behaviors, as well as reproductive behaviors, will be explained in later sections.


Mating Habits


Reproduction is very similar to other snakes; Atractaspis lay eggs which hatch outside of the body, which means they are oviparous. The main sense that snakes utilize in order to find mates is smell, which is their strongest, most acute sense. The females produce an odor that sometimes signals to males that she is ready to mate; however, it has also been found that some snakes use these odors for defensive measures rather than attracting mates. It also appears that the males depend much less on sight than any other sense, and almost exclusively rely on odor. This is why, strangely enough, it appears that male snakes do not rely on color, and therefore color probably plays a very little role, if any, in the mating process. Males have even been found attempting to mate with dead females, which shows that they rely heavily on odor for mating. Polygamy is also rare in snakes, as the males usually practice monogamy. It has been suggested that some female snakes even mate with more than one male, with mixed paternity, sperm competition and storage. However, this seems unlikely because, given the former situation, females would not have to select the males for mating. However, in a 1992 report, Schuett and Duvall suggest that female choice does exist among snakes. The various mating rituals, or "dances" are sometimes very different between snakes, and very little is known so far about the specifics of Atractaspis microlepidota, or Atractaspis mating rituals in general.


1. Small-scaled burrowing asp Wikipedia article -
2. Small-scaled burrowing asp on The IUCN Red List site -

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