Online Encyclopedia


Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V23, Page 173 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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THE AFRICAN CONTINENT.—Of crocodiles, C. vulgaris in the E., C. cataphractus and Osteoleemus tetraspis in the W. There are many Chelonians, especially small land tortoises of Testudo, and with Cinyxis which is peculiar to this continent; the freshwater Clemmys only in the N.W. corner; several genera of the pleurodirous Pelomedusidae, Pelomedusa galeata, which is equatorial and southern, with an outlying occurrence in the Sinai peninsula, and Sternothaerus with several tropical and southern species; of Trionychidae the tropical Cydoderma and Cyclanorbis peculiar to the country, and the large Trionyx triunguis which ranges from the Senegal and Congo into the Nile system with its big lakes, but occurring also in Syria. Of Lacertilia the geckos and skinks, and the typically old world families of Lacertidae and Varanidae are well represented; also Amphisbaenidae; Gerrhosauridae and Zonuridae, peculiar to Africa and Madagascar; a few Eublepharinae and a few of the so-called Anelytropidae in West Africa. But the most important feature of this Lacertilian fauna is the almost universal distribution of chameleons in numerous and some highly specialized forms, Chameleon and Rhampholeon. We note the entire absence of Iguanidae and of Anguidae, the latter represented by Ophisaurus only in the north-western corner. Of snakes only one sub-family is peculiar, the Rhachiodontinae with the sole species Dasypeltis scabra, the egg-swallowing snake. Many Typhlopidae and Glauconiidae, but no Ilysiidae; large pythons, Eryx in the N., and a boa, Pelophilus fordi in the W. of Africa. Of poisonous snakes there is an abundance, notably the Viperinae have their centre in this continent; besides Echis, which is also Indian, there are peculiar to the continent Bitis, the puff-adder, Causus, Atractaspis, Cerastes, and Atheris which is an arboreal genus, all''of which see under VIPER. The pit vipers are entirely absent. Elapinae are numerous, e.g. hooded cobras like Naja haje and Sepedon the " ringhals. Many opisthoglyphous tree snakes and a considerable number of innocuous colubrines, e.g. Lycodon, Psammophis and Coronella or closely allied genera all also in India, but Coluber-like forms and Tropidonotus are very scantily represented, chiefly in the N. On the whole the reptilian fauna of Africa is not rich, considering the huge size of the continent, but this may be accounted for by the great expanse of desert in the N. half and of veld in the S. Lastly, the enormous central forests are still scarcely explored.

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