Blog post metadata Nigerian Snake | Hugh's Curriculum Vitae

Nigerian Snake

While in Tungan Magajiya one night a house mate discovered a snake in the bathroom with them — quite unexpectedly. I had the duty of removing the snake. While I recommend treating all snakes in Africa as venomous I had no idea if this one was or was not. I treated it like I do most snakes. Look for a makeshift snake hook (snake stick) and pin the snake for safe handling and treat it as if it were venomous.

The snake was about 7 inches long and about as thick as my pink y finger 3/4 – 1 cm. It had a white striped coloring going from side to side but was mostly black/gray. The fangs were fairly widely set and its head was not triangular like a viper.

I took pictures but it is hard to be camera man and snake handler at the same time. After catching it, I then threw the snake over the compound wall into a field. I showed the pictures around and asked what kind of snake it was, and most people said, “cobra”. While I want to believe them it is easy to imagine that “cobra” is a generalizable term (choosing an iconic snake, because who hasn’t hear of a King Cobra?) for “dangerous” or “venomous”. My perception is that most people in Nigeria believe that all snakes are deadly (along with other interesting beliefs about snakes (Citation: , ) (). The Serpent in African Belief and Custom. American Anthropologist, 31(4). 655–666. https://doi.org/10.1525/aa.1929.31.4.02a00060 and (Citation: et al., ) , & (). Utilization and Threats of Snakes in Nigeria. Forestry Association of Nigeria. ). In fact just within the last two years a child at the local boarding school managed by the college hosting us had been bitten and died from a snake bite, a sad but acknowledge reality in the academic literature (Citation: et al., ) , , , , , & (). Snakebite in children in Nigeria: A comparison of the first aid treatment measures with the world health organization’s guidelines for management of snakebite in Africa. Annals of African Medicine, 19(3). 182–187. https://doi.org/10.4103/aam.aam_38_19 and (Citation: et al., ) , , & (). Presentation and outcome of snake bite among children in Sokoto, North-Western Nigeria. Sahel Medical Journal, 16(4). 148–153. https://doi.org/10.4103/1118-8561.125557 . Within this part of Nigeria there is a black necked cobra (Naja nigricollis) which is a spitting cobra1. The markings mostly did not match that description so I further discounted the cobra claims. And some suggested that the banded nature on the snake I found was due to it being juvenile and that it would grow to become a cobra.

I have tried to identify the species but have not had any success. Field guides for West Africa (when they exist) are mostly without detailed pictures for each species. I have yet to find a Nigeria specific field guide for any area of biology or zoology. On hand we had several guides which were either from the 1960s or were reprints (Citation: , ) (). Reptiles of West Africa. Penguin Books. and (Citation: , ) (). West African snakes. Longman. . After my time in Tungan Magajiya I went back to Jos where I met with Roger Blench and he lent me (for a few hours) a copy of Atlas des reptiles du Cameroun (Citation: et al., ) & (). Atlas des reptiles du Cameroun. Publications scientifiques du Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle : IRD. Retrieved from https://www.nhbs.com/atlas-des-reptiles-du-cameroun-atlas-of-reptiles-of-cameroon-book , which although not about Nigeria per se does contain some species which do overlap with Cameroon. However, this book offered no satisfying confirmations.

In 2021 I returned to the cobra hypothesis. I noticed that there is a Zebra snake, a spitting cobra in Namibia (which wikipedia suggests has been considered to be a sub-species of the black necked cobra). While I was in Nigeria when I encountered my snake, maybe the range is undocumented? The best YouTube video of a Zebra Cobra is below.

However, even if the snake I encountered in Nigeria was not the same species of cobra ( as there are several) it might have been a cobra.

I found a photograph on Flickr of a juvenile King Cobra with stripes like the snake I found. The stripes, the color change in the mouth and under-head area, and the general head shape all fit the cobra hypothesis.

Juvenile King Cobra.

Juvenile King Cobra at Medtoxin Laboratories, Deland, FL. Credit: Audrey Smith

New and General Field Guides

Snakes

I previously noted that filed guides are lacking for Nigeria and West Africa. I find this is still true. However, a new book specifically on snakes (Citation: et al., ) & (). Snakes of Central and Western Africa. Johns Hopkins University Press. which has received positive reviews (Citation: et al., ) & (). Book review. Snakes of Central and Western Africa. Herpetological Review, 51. 161–164. looks promising. In addition to this, a book with an Africa wide scope (Citation: et al., ) & (). The dangerous snakes of Africa. Bloomsbury Publishing. Retrieved from http://www.vlebooks.com/vleweb/product/openreader?id=none&isbn=9781472960283 was expanded and re-released, building on a 1995 publication. And several other resources on snakes (Citation: , ) (). Herpetofauna of West Africa. Chimaira. and reptiles (Citation: et al., ) & (). Atlas des reptiles du Cameroun. Publications scientifiques du Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle : IRD. Retrieved from https://www.nhbs.com/atlas-des-reptiles-du-cameroun-atlas-of-reptiles-of-cameroon-book .

Snake bite literature

There is a lot of discussion (relatively) in literature about snake bites and treatment in Nigeria. My experience would tell me not to anticipate anyone having anti-venom at “medical” facilities. (Tungan Magajiya is between an eleven and twelve hour drive from Jos.) (Citation: et al., ) , & (). Snake bite in Nigeria. African Journal of Medicine and Medical Sciences, 30(3). 171–178. , (Citation: et al., ) , , , , & (). Snake bites in Nigeria: A study of the prevalence and treatment in Benin City. Tropical Journal of Pharmaceutical Research, 1(1). 39–44. https://doi.org/10.4314/tjpr.v1i1.14597 , (Citation: et al., ) , & (). An audit of snake bite injuries seen at the Usmanu Danfodiyo University Teaching Hospital Sokoto, Nigeria. Nigerian Postgraduate Medical Journal, 15(2). 112–115. Retrieved from https://www.npmj.org/article.asp?issn=1117-1936;year=2008;volume=15;issue=2;spage=112;epage=115;aulast=Njoku;type=0 , (Citation: et al., ) , & (). Relationship between bite-to-hospital time and morbidity in victims of carpet viper bite in North-Central Nigeria. West African Journal of Medicine, 30(5). 348–353. , (Citation: et al., ) , & (). The effect of pre-hospital care for venomous snake bite on outcome in Nigeria. Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 105(2). 95–101. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trstmh.2010.09.005 , (Citation: , ) (). Venomous Snakes and Snake Envenomation in Nigeria. In Gopalakrishnakone, P. (Eds.), Toxinology: Clinical Toxinology. (pp. 1–21). Springer Netherlands. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-6288-6_32-1 , (Citation: et al., ) , , & (). Presentation and outcome of snake bite among children in Sokoto, North-Western Nigeria. Sahel Medical Journal, 16(4). 148–153. https://doi.org/10.4103/1118-8561.125557 , (Citation: , ) (). Public health aspects of snakebite care in West Africa: perspectives from Nigeria. Journal of Venomous Animals and Toxins including Tropical Diseases, 19(1). 27. https://doi.org/10.1186/1678-9199-19-27 , (Citation: et al., ) , , , & (). Medicinal plants used to treat Snake bite by Fulani Herdsmen in Taraba State, Nigeria. International Journal of Applied Agricultural and Apicultural Research, 11(1&2). 10–21. , (Citation: et al., ) , , , , & (). Effect of distance and delay in access to care on outcome of snakebite in rural north-eastern Nigeria. Rural and Remote Health, 15(4). 3496. , (Citation: et al., ) , , , & (). Cost-effectiveness of Antivenoms for Snakebite Envenoming in Nigeria. PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, 9(1). e3381. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pntd.0003381 , (Citation: et al., ) , , , , , & (). Snakebite in children in Nigeria: A comparison of the first aid treatment measures with the world health organization’s guidelines for management of snakebite in Africa. Annals of African Medicine, 19(3). 182–187. https://doi.org/10.4103/aam.aam_38_19 , and (Citation: , ) (). Assessment of Health - Seeking Behaviour among Snakebite Victims in a Rural Community of Kaltungo Local Government Area, Gombe State, Nigeria. Texila International Journal of Public Health, 8(1). 61–67. https://doi.org/10.21522/TIJPH.2013.08.01.Art007 .

Animals, Insects, and Fish

There are a variety of guides and reference books on animals (broadly speaking including mammals, reptiles (Citation: et al., ) & (). Atlas des reptiles du Cameroun. Publications scientifiques du Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle : IRD. Retrieved from https://www.nhbs.com/atlas-des-reptiles-du-cameroun-atlas-of-reptiles-of-cameroon-book , amphibians (Citation: , ) (). Amphibien der westafrikanischen savanne. Edition Chimaira. Retrieved from https://www.nhbs.com/amphibien-der-westafrikanischen-savanne-volume-1-book ), insects (which doesn’t technically include Arachnids, but I put them here too), and fish (Citation: , ) (). West African Freshwater Fish. Longman. for west Africa. The ones I know about are listed in the references section but are not called out here in this section. They are mostly older and out of date with current publishing practices.

Plants

While I am sure there have been more recent publications (or at lease I would hope so), the following resources are the once I am aware of for plant (mostly tree and flowers) identification in the Northwest Nigeria region: (Citation: , ) (). The useful trees of northern Nigeria. Crown agents for the colonies. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/2027/umn.31951p00775127b , (Citation: et al., ) & (). West African lilies and orchids. , (Citation: , ) (). West African trees. Longman. , (Citation: , ) (). Orchids of Nigeria: Description of 104 species. Balkema. , (Citation: , ) (). Plant life in West Africa (2nd ed). Ghana Universities Press. , (Citation: , ) (). Medicinal plants in tropical West Africa. Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511753114 , (Citation: , ) (). Flowering plants in West Africa. Cambridge University Press. , and (Citation: et al., ) & (). Woody plants of Western African forests: A guide to the forest trees, shrubs and lianes from Senegal to Ghana. Kew Pub. .

Birds

Someday I would love to collaborate with a bird enthusiast (bird watcher) to identify, photograph and collect stories about birds in the minority languages of norther Nigeria. It would be a fun project. Most of the bird guides I am aware of are older publications including: (Citation: , ) (). The birds of tropical West Africa, with special reference to those of the Gambia, Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast and Nigeria. Crown Agents for the Colonies, published under the authority of the Secretary of State for the Colonies. , (Citation: , , p. serle_field_1977) (). Birds of the West African town and garden. Longman. , (Citation: et al., ) & (). Discovering birds: An introduction to the birds of Nigeria. Pisces Publications. , and (Citation: , ) (). The birds of Nigeria: An annotated check-list. British Ornithologists' Union. . However, several newer publications have been printed (Citation: et al., ) & (). A guide to the birds of western Africa. Princeton University Press. , (Citation: et al., ) & (). Birds of Western Africa. Princeton University Press. , and (Citation: , ) (). Birds of western Africa (2). Bloomsbury Publishing. . The latest one claiming to be nearly comprehensive.

Species names in minority languages

Roger Blench has the most comprehensive lists of plant and animal names across the minority languages of northern Nigeria. As I understand it, he is working on publishing some of these to mobile apps. Some of these lists (usually by language) may be available from his website.

Online

The state of online resources has also increased. I have felt that the quality of wikipedia is low and this has pushed me to discover other biodiversity based information sources. In general, online resources are not available from Tungan Magajiya due to infrastructure and internet connectivity issues. For a large variety of plant and animal species identification tasks I have found inaturalist.org helpful as well as gbif.org. (Both links are to “Nigeria wide” searches on the respective websites.)

Publishers

I find that the materials at nhbs.com are generally of a good quality (in terms of depth). But there are lots of other publishers. Often one will find publications at the academic societies for the study of the family of species or at regionally focused conservation societies.

Language of Scholarship

I would like to point out that English is not the only language of scholarship — especially on matters of Africa. There are considerable resources also published in French, German, and Russian. (I have pointed to (Citation: et al., ) & (). Atlas des reptiles du Cameroun. Publications scientifiques du Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle : IRD. Retrieved from https://www.nhbs.com/atlas-des-reptiles-du-cameroun-atlas-of-reptiles-of-cameroon-book [French] and (Citation: , ) (). Amphibien der westafrikanischen savanne. Edition Chimaira. Retrieved from https://www.nhbs.com/amphibien-der-westafrikanischen-savanne-volume-1-book [German] in this post.) Arabic no-doubt also has considerable resources due to its long history of use in north and east Africa. Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese scholarship should not be overlooked. I am just not personally versed in the scope of treatment on African matters in languages other than English, German, and French.

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  1. For more on the black necked cobra species see content at reptile-database.reptarium.cz and biodiversityexplorer.info. ↩︎

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Hugh Paterson III
Hugh Paterson III
Director of Market Research

My research interests include typological patterns in articulatory phonetics; User Experience design in language tools; and graph theory applied to language and linguistics.

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