In Search of Aparallactus

Highveld Grassland

Recently, Maritz Lab members, Bryan and Robin, were joined by Parkinson Lab members, Chris Parkinson and Erich Hofmann–all the way from Clemson University (SC, USA)–in search of Aparallactus capensis and other mildly venomous snake species as part of a new collaborative research project.

The team spent several days amongst the rocky outcrops of highveld grassland in search of target snake species. The main priority: Aparallactus capensis. Second priority: any rear-fanged “mildly venomous” snake species. Although overall herp diversity was excellent across sampling sites (36 species), target species (and snakes, in general) proved challenging to find.

Day One at Buffelskloof Private Nature Reserve turned out to be the best outing of the trip. The team set out that morning, joined by Adriaan Jordaan, ready to flip some rocks. The very first rock produced a Leptotyphlops sp. Several other snakes were found subsequently including Psammophis crucifer, Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia, and Bitis atropos. Most excitingly, on the walk back down the hill, Robin found an Aparallactus capensis cruising on the surface. Getting a target species on the first day brought a huge sigh of relief. It was a great start to the trip and it seemed like a promising sign for the duration of the trip. After several long days of herping, Day One’s A. capensis remained the only centipede-eater that was located.

Left: Aparallactus capensis; Right: Psammophis crucifer

Snake species found included Aparallactus capensis (1), Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia (3), Duberria lutrix (1), Homoroselaps lacteus (1), Lycophidion capense (1), Psammophylax rhombeatus (1), Psammophis crucifer (1), Leptotyphlops sp. (several), Bitis atropos (several), and Naja mossambica (1). DOR species included Dispholidus typus, Bitis arietans, Naja mossambica, and Psammophis mossambicus. Many of the individuals that we encountered were hatchlings and had a detectable umbilical scar.

Erich Hofmann, a PhD student in the Parkinson Lab, has been investigating the venom profiles of Tantilla species, a New World radiation of centipede-eating snakes, and aims to compare the composition and expression of their venom proteins to Aparallactus species, an unrelated clade of centipede-eating snakes restricted to Africa. Have both species converged on a similar suite of venom proteins to subdue their arthropod prey or have they evolved different mechanisms for dealing with a similar prey type? Stay tuned for this answer!

The art of field sampling