Monday, January 27, 2014

Schouteden’s sun snake, Helophis schoutedeni a forgotten aquatic snake from central Africa

Heliophis schoutedeni. Photo credit Vaclay Gvozdik.
The Schouteden’s sun snake Helophis schoutedeni is the sole member of the genus, and was originally described by the Belgian herpetologist Gaston-François de Witte in 1922 as Pelophis schoutedeni. Twenty years later, the new generic name Helophis was established by de Witte and Laurent because the generic name Pelophis was preoccupied by Pelophis Fitzinger, 1843.  De Witte and later de Witte & Laurent (1942) provided data on two syntypes both collected by Henri Schouteden in 1921. In the original description, De Witte & Laurent also reported a third specimen from Léopoldville (today Kinshasa), which was collected in 1937 by Henrard. Since then, this snake species was all but forgotten, left out of field guides and faunal lists. And, the genus has remained monotypic.

In a recent article Nagy and colleagues (2014) report on a fourth specimen of this snake collected during a field expedition to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in June–July 2012. The authors  obtained the snake in Kinshasa, in proximity of the Congo River.

Ecologically, Helophis schoutedeni is a semi-aquatic snake as suggested by its dorsally-oriented nostrils, narrow triangular internasals, small eyes with round pupil and stout body. And, during a short period in captivity, the snake preferred to stay in water. Helophis is morphologically similarity to the genus Hydraethiops another poorly known aquatic snake from Africa.

The photos here are most like the first ones take of live specimen of this species.

NAGY, Z. T., GVOŽDÍK, V., & MEIRTE, D. (2014). New data on the morphology and distribution of the enigmatic Schouteden’s sun snake, Helophis schoutedeni (de Witte, 1922) from the Congo Basin. Zootaxa, 3755(1), 096-100.

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