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definition - Atractaspididae

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Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Infraorder: Alethinophidia
Family: Atractaspididae
Günther, 1858
  • Aparallactinae
Common names: Mole vipers, stiletto snakes, burrowing asps.

The Atractaspididae are a family of snakes found in Africa and the Middle East. Currently, 12 genera are recognized.[1]



This family includes many genera formerly classed in other families, on the basis of fang type. It includes fangless (aglyphous), rear-fanged (opisthoglyphous), fixed-fanged (proteroglyphous), and viper-like (solenoglyphous) species. Molecular and physiological data linking this family to others is ambiguous and often contradictory, which means the taxonomy of this family is highly contentious. The nominate family, Atractaspididae has itself been moved to and from other taxa, reinforcing the ambiguity of this family.

  Geographic range

This family is found in Africa and the Middle East.[2][3][4]


Most of these snakes are inoffensive or far too small to envenom a person effectively. However, some can inflict severe tissue necrosis e.g. if the victim's thumb is bitten, the tip of that digit may be lost. Relapses may occur long after the bite. [5][6]

Very few deaths seem to have resulted from accidents with these snakes, although large individuals of Atractaspis microlepidota and a few other long-glanded species are very likely to be dangerous.[7] Some of the long-fanged species are able to stab their prey (or an unfortunate human) even while their mouth is closed, and the typical grasp used by herpetologists to securely hold venomous snakes is not necessarily safe for this group.[8][9] This ability to stab sideways even with a closed mouth is the basis for an English name used for some of them; side-stabbing snakes.[3]


Family Atractaspididae -- 12 Genera
Genus[1] Taxon author[1] Species
Common name Geographic range
Amblyodipsas Peters, 1857 9 glossy snakes Africa
Aparallactus A. Smith, 1849 11 centipede-eaters Africa
Atractaspis A. Smith, 1849 15 burrowing asps, stiletto snakes[1] Africa, Middle-East
Brachyophis Mocquard, 1888 1 Revoil's short snake Africa
Chilorhinophis Werner, 1907 3 two-headed snakes Africa
Elapotinus Jan, 1862 1 Jan's snake Africa
Hypoptophis Boulenger, 1908 1 African bighead snake Africa
Macrelaps Boulenger, 1896 1 Natal black snake Africa
Micrelaps Boettger, 1880 5 two-headed snakes Africa, Middle-East
Poecilopholis Boulenger, 1903 1 Cameroon racer Africa
Polemon Jan, 1858 13 snake-eaters Africa
Xenocalamus Günther, 1868 5 quill-snouted snakes Africa


Previously classified as a subfamily of the Colubridae: the Aparallactinae.[2]

  See also


  1. ^ a b c d e "Atractaspididae". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. http://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=563895. Retrieved 17 August 2007. 
  2. ^ a b Mehrtens JM. 1987. Living Snakes of the World in Color. New York: Sterling Publishers. 480 pp. ISBN 0-8069-6460-X.
  3. ^ a b Spawls S, Branch B. 1995. The Dangerous Snakes of Africa. Ralph Curtis Books. Dubai: Oriental Press. 192 pp. ISBN 0-88359-029-8.
  4. ^ Parker HW, Grandison AGC. 1977. Snakes -- a natural history. Second Edition. British Museum (Natural History) and Cornell University Press. 108 pp. 16 plates. LCCCN 76-54625. ISBN 0-8014-1095-9 (cloth), ISBN 0-8014-9164-9 (paper).
  5. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p31K9gfBev8&feature=related
  6. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSx1fiLVxLs
  7. ^ Atractaspididae at the TIGR Reptile Database
  8. ^ Kurnik Haviv and Kochva (1999). A snake bite by the burrowing asp, Atractaspis engaddensis. Toxicon 37(1): 223-227.
  9. ^ Deufel and Cundall (2003). Feeding in Atractaspis (Serpentes: Atractaspididae): a study in conflicting functional constraints. Zoology 106: 43-61.

  External links



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