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Local distribution, habitat use, and diet of two supposed 'species' of the Psammophis 'phillipsi' complex (Serpentes: Colubridae), sympatric in southern Nigeria

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Snakes of the genus Psammophis are widespread in diverse habitats of west Africa, from dry savannas to moist rainforests. In southern Nigeria, P. phillipsi occurs with two 'forms', one with a divided cloacal shield (CSD) and one with an entire cloacal shield (CSE). These 'forms' were suggested to be possibly distinct species in a recent review by Hughes (1999). However, as no data are available on the variation in natural history, if any, between these two supposed species, we collected data on local distribution and natural history traits of these 'forms' in several localities of southern Nigeria. Out of 32 localities examined, sympatric CSD and CSE specimens occurred in 28.1% of the localities, CSD specimens alone occurred in 68.8%, and CSE specimens alone occurred in 3.1%. At five additional localities, where a higher number of specimens was examined (range 21-41 specimens), CSD specimens were clearly dominant over CSE specimens (on average 88.8% of specimens in each population), independently of the habitat types, and there was no apparent effect of longitude on the frequency of occurrence of CSD specimens. Both 'forms' proved to be habitat generalists (often inhabiting deforested areas and suburbs), and very similar in terms of type of prey eaten (mainly Agama lizards and Mabuya skinks, but also small mammals), and apparently also in terms of micro-habitats used for foraging (clearings into forested zones). Overall, there was no evident difference between these 'forms' in terms of the main ecological traits examined here.


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