View Full Version : Deciphering African House Snakes

04-30-2011, 03:11 AM
How would you respond if I decided to sell African brown pythons? You would ask what kind/species they were. I would then shrug my shoulders and simply say that they are common brown pythons from Africa. Frustrated, you would probably probe deeper, asking if they were ball pythons, Angolan pythons or African rock pythons. Beats me, they’re just brown and tan pythons.

Welcome to the confusing and frustrating reality of African house snakes in the captive reptile market. For a long time, these snakes were thought to be one species, Lamprophis fuliginosus. However, about 18 different species have been described in the genus, and recently, based on new genetic studies, those species have been split off into 3 different genera.

African house snakes as a whole are slowly gaining popularity among the reptile community, mainly because of their prolific reproductive rates, easy husbandry and relatively prices. While most specimens are not necessarily beautiful or visually spectacular when compared to a rainbow boa, an Asian ratsnake , or the latest ball python morph, they do retain an exotic appeal to the colubrid crowd that yearns for something compact, but a little more exotic than your typical cornsnake or kingsnake. However, there still seems to be only a handful of diehard enthusiasts that truly devote attention to the African house snake group and keep up with new findings and taxonomic updates.
Sadly, most dealers who import these snakes from across seas do not share the same dedication to accurately identifying and labeling the African house snakes they acquire and sell. Instead, they merely categorize and price their specimens based on coloration alone, which leads to much confusion, especially to new hobbyists. The reality is that most of the more common House snake species are quite variable in appearance, and it takes a little research and a good eye to know what species you’re looking at. To make the matter more vexing, none of the species (with the exception of two) will interbreed with each other. The upside to this fact is that there is virtually no risk of creating hybrids or “mutts.” The downside is that it is easy for a beginner to end up with a pair of House snakes that will never produce offspring on the account that each snake is a different species.
I would now like to give a really quick crash course on some of the species hitting the market these days.

• Boaedon capensis, the Cape house snake – arguably the most common species in the U.S. reptile market. Cape house snakes, in my opinion, exhibit the most “python-esque” head shape; a very angular, wedge-shape that almost resembles a Burmese python’s head stuck on the body of a cornsnake. The markings on their heads are very defined, and their dorsal pattern is variable. This is the only house snake species in America that is commonly available in various color morphs, such as albinism, hypomelanism, and patternless. I.E. if you ever see an albino house snake offered for sale in the U.S., you can be rest assured that it is most definitely a Cape. Subcaudal scale count is typically between 64-68.
• Boaedon lineatus, the Striped house snake – very similar in appearance to the Cape house snake, except that it is generally a little slimmer, often has large “bug-eyes” reminiscent of the same mutation in leucistic Texas ratsnakes, and the very defined, unbroken striped down each side with no dorsal pattern. This species has been proven to cross with the Cape house snake, it is often thought among house snake enthusiasts that the two species are even more closely related than current taxonomy reflects.
• Boaedon fuliginosus, common (brown) House snake – the so-called archetype of the genus, this species is not near as common in the pet trade as people think, contrary to the fact that most dealers label their African house snakes with this species’ title. In fact, I rarely see true normal “fulis” offered for sale, as most specimens prove to either be Cape house snakes or the next species described, the Dotted house snake. However, a unique locality that is commonly available is a dark, uniform coloration with no pattern. These specimens are often sold as “West African Olive house snakes” or “black olive house snakes,” which is confusing because there are actually two other species of true Olive house snakes. Regrettably, both of these species are quite rare in the U.S., so be mindful that the vast majority of “olive” house snakes offered for sale in America are very likely a dark form of B. fuliginosus.
• Boaedon maculatus, the Dotted house snake – this species is quite similar in appearance to the Cape house snake. However, one notable difference is the subdued markings on the head, in contrast to the well-defined ones on a Cape. Another characteristic is that the head shaped is more lean, and lupine, an almost “dog-like” look to it, especially when viewed from the side. Subcaudal scale count is typically 55 or less.
• Boaedon mentalis, Namibian House snake – Also called the “bug-eyed” house snake, this species is fairly distinctive with its huge orange eyes, and light pink coloration. Virtually patternless except the vivid markings on the head, the Namibian house snake is often thought to be a subspecies of the common House snake, although no hybrids are known.
• Boaedon olivaceus, the True Olive house snake – very similar appearance to the common house snake, except for its single anal plate scale (most other species have a divided anal plate, and its bright orange-ruby-colored eyes. Virtually nonexistent in captivity outside of Europe and South Africa.
• Lamprophis aurora, the Aurora house snake – very distinctive snake, and not easily mistaken for any other species, the Aurora house snake has a uniform “snot-green” color with an orange dorsal stripe. Unlike members of the Boaedon genus, the Lamprophis species have round pupils, not vertical ones.
• Lamprophis inornatus, the “false” or Black Olive house snake – a uniformly colored snake with hues ranging from grey to green to almost black, this species is very glossy. One of the largest house snake species, it has round pupils like its cousin, the Aurora house snake. Very rare in the U.S.

There are a handful of other species, but most are protected to some capacity in their natural range and are practically nonexistent in captivity.

I certainly hope this information is helpful to anyone interested in these fascinating, but still misunderstood colubrids. Distinguishing the different species can still be a challenge, even for me, who has been working with house snakes for 3 years! It’s exciting to see more and more herpers wanting to enter the world of house snakes, and I just would like folks to be as informed as possible.

For more information regarding African house snakes, please feel free to check out the following websites:

• www.Lamprophis.proboards.com (http://www.lamprophis.proboards.com)

or my own website listed in my signature (ShiningSnakes.com).

04-30-2011, 03:12 AM
Anyway I request that the moderators sticky this thread? [pretty please???]

04-30-2011, 09:59 AM
Another site to keep checking in on is: Boaedon.com (http://www.Boaedon.com)

Mike Stockton often has a few updates every now and then that help explain the genetics of the Cape, Common, and Dotted house snakes.

Dennis Hultman
04-30-2011, 12:19 PM
How about I open the other sticky thread for house snakes at the top of this forum? You can add the girth of your information to that thread. I would rather keep it a information only thread on this site not a send people to other sites for information. Credit given to the author but I would prefer not sending people to other sites, At least with the sticky thread.

04-30-2011, 02:16 PM
Sounds good. I didn't think the links would be an issue since they were for a specific group of herps, not a general-all forum such as Fauna.

Dennis Hultman
04-30-2011, 03:14 PM
OK, I opened it.

Dennis Hultman
04-30-2011, 04:38 PM

bellevue limo
05-17-2011, 08:21 AM
In my opinion it is the House Snakes from Africa. House Snakes grow up to four feet. The larger animals recorded have all been females but in my collection