Guide to herpetofauna (snakes, lizards, and amphibians) of Dogon country and northern Mali

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Guide to herpetofauna (snakes, lizards, and amphibians) of Dogon country and northern Mali.

compiled by Jeff Heath, Linguistics, University of Michigan for Dogon and Bangime linguistic project

July 2012 version
This guide is compiled from published sources and from personal communications to me by specialists, along with my own comments based on limited experience collecting specimens and photographs in Dogon country and farther north. Designed for practical use by linguistic and other fieldworkers.

Mali location records, and quoted brief comments, are from J&L (1996) ["J&L"], see under "articles" below, unless otherwise indicated (some species names have been updated). The snake keys and some descriptive data are mostly from Chippaux (2001). Some identifications of photographed species have been made in email correspondence with German herpetologists (Profs. Joger and Boehme), who have also provided information about taxonomic updates. I had the pleasure of meeting with them in Germany, and with Prof. Lambert in London, around 2002.

Images for some species can be found on our project website, which is For the snakes, most specimens were shown to me in dried out condition long after death, and the heads were often bashed in, but the specimens were nonetheless identifiable in nearly all cases. I was able to photograph some specimens in the collection of the museum in Darmstadt, Germany (thanks to Prof. Joger), in 2002, and some specimens preserved in alcohol at the University of Niamey, Republic of Niger, in 2000. Some of my early photos are of poor quality but the recent ones are better, and we should be able to add several new photos over the next few years.

The five-digit reference numbers for those species that have native names in Dogon or nearby languages are helpful is searching for images on our site.

abbreviations: J&L (Joger & Lambert), T&M (Trape & Mané)
article with Malian location records

Ulrich Joger & Michael Lambert. 1996. "Analysis of the herpetofauna of the Republic of Mali, I: Annotated inventory, with description of a new Uromastyx (Sauria: Agamidae). Jrnl. of Afr. Zool. 110:21-51.

books (for snakes see especially Trape & Mané)

Alden, Peter, Richard Estes, Duane Schlitter, & Bunny McBride. 1995. National Audubon Society field guide to African wildlife. NY: Knopf.

Cansdale, G.S. 1961. West African snakes. Essex UK: Longman.

Chippaux, Jena-Philippe. 2001. Les serpents d'Afrique occidentale et centrale. Paris: IRD Editions. [now superceded by Trape & Mané]

Coburn, John. 1991. The Atlas of snakes of the world. Neptune City NJ: THF Publications.

Ernst, C.H. and R.W. Barbour. 1989. Turtles of the World. Washington DC: Smithsonian.

Frank, N. and E. Ramus. 1995. A complete guide to scientific and common names of reptiles and amphibians of the world. Pottsville: Ramus/NG Publishing.

Martin, James.1998. The spitting cobras of Africa.

Mattison, C. 1989. Lizards of the world. NY: Facts on File. ISBN 0816019002.

Mehrtens, J.M. 1987. Living snakes of the world in color. NY: Sterling. (German translation published Stuttgart: Franckh-Kosmos, 1993).

H. H. Schleich et al. 1996. Amphibians and reptiles of North Africa. Koenigstein: Koeltz. ISBN 3-87429-377-7.

Spawls, Stephen, et al. 1998. Dangerous snakes of Africa.

Staffod, P.J. 1986. Pythons & Boas. Neptune NJ: TFH Pubs.

Trape, Jean-François and Youssouph Mané. 2006. Guide des serpents d'Afrique occidentale: savane et désert. Montpellier: IRD Editions. [supercedes Chippaux; now the primary reference on snakes of the zone, includes keys, images, and specimen-location maps; does not guve synonymies]

Welch, Kenneth R. G. 1982. Herpetology of Africa: A Checklist and Bibliography, Malabar FL: Robert E. Krieger. ISBN 0-88898874-428-8.

Villiers, A. 1958. Tortues et crocodiles de l'Afrique noire française (Initiations africaines, XV). Dakar: I.F.A.N.

websites, most with images (sites come and go, change url's, etc.; cf. Wikipedia) (TIGR reptile database) (JCVI reptile database, with many images)
location of U.S. herpetological specimens in museums
AMPHIBIA (includes orders Caudata and Gymnophiona not represented in Mali) (amphibians, incl. frogs, no images)

homepage for the latter:

order Anura

for frog images see Calphotos (best) and Amphibianinfo, cf. links above
comments (JH): the common bullfrog (relatively smooth skin, rather long legs, jumping) in the zone is Hoplobatrachus (= Dicroglossus) occipitalis. Observed in pools at Kikara and Beni. Older individuals are quite large and heavy, while juveniles can jump considerable distances. Native Dogon may have different terms for the large and juvenile stages.

Less common and smaller frogs known or suspected to occur in Dogon country:

a) Galam white-lipped frog Amnirana galamensis, specimen from Anda 2009.

b) puddle frog Phrynobatrachus cf. accraensis, specimen from swampy pastoral area between Douentza and Boni 2010.

c) two other frog spp. known to me by Dogon names only; we are trying to get specimens.

d) Hyperolius (viridiflavus) nitidulus, a small frog that clings to grass stems, may be present in parts of Dogon country although I have not seen it.

Toads (rough skin, short legs, hopping) in the area are Amietrophrynus (=Bufo) xeros and A. (=B.) regularis, which Dogon may combine terminologically. A. xeros is common in Douentza in the rainy season. Coloration is somewhat variable within each species (e.g. breeding male, nonbreeding male, female, juvenile). A third toad, "Bufo" pentoni (genus likely to be changed soon), is less common but was found at Gasa.
Pipidae (p. 31, 1 sp. of Xenopus [rather large, flattened bodies with wide mouths])

image (genus): Amphibia-info, Calphotos

Bufonidae = toads (p. 31, 5 spp. of Bufo)

reference: D. R. Forst et. al, 2006. The Amphibian Tree of Life. Bull. Amer. Mus. Nat. Hist. 297:1-370 (Amietrophrynus p. 221)

Amietophrynus (new genus containining some ex-Bufo spp.)

Amietophrynus pentoni, syn Bufo pentoni 60232

records: ("much less abundant" than B. xeros, J&L); occurs in swampy areas around Gasa (between Douentza and Boni) (JH)

notes: has conspicuous protruding "warts" on body

ref.: D. R. Forst et. al, 2006. The Amphibian Tree of Life. Bull. Amer. Mus. Of Nat. Hist. no. 297:1-370 (Bufo pentoni group pp. 222, 363)

image: Amphibia-info, Calphotos

Amietophrynus regularis (square-backed toad), syn Bufo regularis (thus J&L)

records: mostly from Mopti south (but rep. Timbuktu)

image: Amphibia-info, Calphotos

notes: similar to A. xeros, probably not distinguished from that species by Dogon

Amietophrynus xeros (subdesert toad), syn Bufo xeros (thus J&L) 60231

records: "abundant" from Bamako north (J&L); the common toad in northern Dogon country (JH)

image: Calphotos


Bufo pentoni, see Amietophrynus pentoni

Bufo regularis, see Amietophrynus regularis

Bufo xeros, see Amietophrynus xeros

Dicroglossidae (formerly part of Ranidae)

Hoplobatrachus occipitalis [syn Dicroglossus occipitalis, thus in J&L] 60236

records: ("commonest frog observed in central Mali near standing water and marshy areas; infrequent during dry season" J&L]; the common frog in ponds in Dogon country (JH)

notes: young specimens are active jumpers, unlike heavy adults

image: Calphotos

Microhylidae (p. 32, 1 sp. of "Phrynomerus", now Phrynomantis [small, colorful, often with red areas or marks])

image (genus): Amphibia-info, Calphotos

Hyperoliidae (ex Rhacophoridae; (p. 32, 7 spp.)

Hyperolius nitidulus [syn H. viridiflavus nitidulus] "frequently seen on grass stems during seasonal rains in northern central Mali" (J&L)

image (as H. viridiflavus nitidulus): Calphotos

Phrynobatrachidae (ex Ranidae)

reference: M. Lamotte & F. Xavier. 1966. "Phrynobatrachus natalensis (Smith) et Phrynobatrachus francisci (Boulender): deux espèces de l'Ouest africain difficiles à distinguer." Bull. de l'Inst. Franç. d'Afr. Noire 28(1):343-61.



notes: two species belonging to this genus have been collected in northern Dogon country and await species identification (genus identification from photos by Boehme). One is a "two-toned" frog whose limbs are lighter-colored than the torso; the other has an orange longitudinal stripe along the top of the back

reference: Jean Guibé & Maxime Lamotte. 1957. "Révision systématique des Ptychadena (Batraciens Anoures Ranidés) d'Afrique occidentale." Bull. de l'Inst. Franç. d'Afr. Noire 19(3):937-1003.

Ptychadena sp. 1 60240

records: Beni, Gasa (JH)

notes: two-tone, limbs lighter colored than torso

taxonomy: resembles P. aequiplicata

Ptychadena sp. 2 60675

records: Gasa (JH)

notes: orange stripe longitudinally along top of back

Pyxicephalidae (formerly part of Ranidae)

(Tomopterna are rather toad-like in body shape)

image (genus): Amphibia-info, Calphotos

Tomopterna sp. ("a member of this crepuscular genus has recently been found in northern Mali")

Tomopterna millehihorsini [syn Schoutedenella millehihorsini, thus in J&L] ("stony habitat," recorded only in Kati)

Pyxicephalus sp. aff. edulis ("edible frog") 60678

records: not previously recorded for Mali; specimens collected and photographed in Sevare and in the swamps of Gasa between Douentza and Boni, but generally not known to Dogon (JH)

notes: adults very heavy (poor hoppers)

taxonomy: recently discovered in W. Africa by Boehme, related and perhaps conspecific with P. edulis of SW Africa


Amnirana (=Hydrophylax = Hylarana) galamensis "Galam white-lipped frog" 60235

records: not in J&L; rare and not widely known in northern Dogon country, specimen from Anda 2009, determined by Boehme and Joger by photograph, voucher specimen in Bonn (JH)

notes: small frog, base color of back and sides brownish, two conspicuous white longitudinal stripes on each side (one under and one over eye and ear), limbs and belly whitish

taxonomy: species galamensis seems to be clearcut but genus affiliation uncertain as the range of several genera is in dispute (as of 2010). Amnirana referred to Hydrophylax by D. R. Frost et al., 2006, The amphibian tree of life. Bull. Amer. Mus. Nat. Hist 297: 1-370 (p. 250). Amnirana referred to Hylarana by J. Che et. al. 2007. “Phylogeny of Raninae (Anura: Ranidae) inferred from mitochondrial and nuclear sequences”; Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 43:1-13.

Hildebrandtia ornata 60239

taxonomy: specimen collected (determined at genus level by Boehme from photo 2010 as Phrynobatrachus sp.), perhaps P. accraensis (syn P. latifrons)

records: rare and not widely known in northern Dogon country, specimen 2010 from swampy area between Douentza and Boni (JH)

description of specimen: mid-sized; distinctive white strips on throat; dark transverse bands on legs

CHELONIA (turtles, tortoises) (world turtle database)
Testudinidae = tortoises (p. 33, 2 spp.)

Geochelone sulcata ("African spurred tortoise") [syn Testudo sulcata] 60625

records: northern and central Mali, "occasional sightings only" (J&L); said to still exist in desert, also found as pet in villages and towns (e.g. Douentza) (JH)

notes: large terrestrial tortoise, gets moisture from succulent plants. Hibernates in hot dry season by digging deep holes. The shells (carapaces) are widely used as containers.

Trionychidae = softshell turtles (p. 33, 2 spp.) (not known in Dogon country)

Pelomedusidae = sideneck turtles (p. 33, 3 spp)

Pelomedusa subrufa ("helmeted turtle") 60626

records: "frequently observed in and near water during the rainy season; aestivates during dry season"; also Aïr)

semi-aquatic tortoise; carnivore (fish, amphibians, worms). Will sunbathe. Much smaller than Geochelone. Live specimen brought to me by children in Douentza 2007


Crocodylia (p. 33, 3 spp.)

Crocodylus niloticus ("Nile crocodile") 60593

records: ("well known ..., especially in the River Niger Inner Delta"; present in Dogon country, e.g. Adia village, where rivers hold their water at least in pools through the dry season; now extinct in Sahara (formerly present in pockets in Sahara, known to Tuareg). Natives sometimes distinguish two types of crocodile by size but this does not necessarily correspond to species differences.

average adult 4 m, longest 7 m; the common crocodile of the zone; snout variably elongated; like to sunbathe near water; in Niger R. and smaller rivers.

Mecistops cataphractus ("slender-snouted crocodile") [syn Crocodylus cataphractus, thus J&L] 60592

records: far southern Mali, "status uncertain" (J&L)

maximum 4 m; snout extremely elongated (long and thin)

Osteolaemus tetraspis ("dwarf crocodile") 60733

records: ("not specifically recorded in Mali, but ... probably occurs there ..." J&L)

Guinean forests, forest galleries or south Senegal; maximum 1.8 m; snout blunt, nostrils separated by a body septum; adults blackish above; very slow, not dangerous, often out of water, e.g. in shade of trees

SAURIA (lizards)

Gekkota (order), Gekkonidae = geckoes (pp. 33-4, 11 spp.)

subfamily Gekkoninae

gecko website:

Northern Dogon generally have a single word for 'gecko' (salamandre in local French); if they know Tarentola they call it 'bush gecko' or the like.
Hemidactylus brookii (genus: "leaf-toed gecko") 60476

records: ("commonly seen on mud-brick walls of village buildings at night in central and northern Mali") [toes have pointed extensions]

taxonomy: Hemidactylus group brookii, subject to revision

Ptyodactylus ragazzii [syn P. hasselquistii ragazzi, thus in J&L] (genus: "fan-fingered or fan-footed geckoes") 60477

records: many records from northern and central Mali)

common house gecko (nocturnal, on walls); digits end in a fan-like appendage (rounded pads)

image: Gekkota


Stenodactylus petrii (genus: "short-fingered gecko")

records: Tessalit and just north of Bourem

image: Gekkota

Stenodactylus sthenodactylus (genus: "short-fingered gecko")

records: (Kidal, Tessalit)

image: Gekkota

Tarentola [on this genus see U. Joger. 1984. Taxonomische Revision der Gattung Tarentola (Reptilia: Gekkonidae). Bonner zoologische Beiträge 35:(1 3):129-74.]

Tarentola annularis ("ringed wall gecko") 60478

records: (mostly Mopti to Kidal)

Tarentola ephippiata ("African wall gecko") 60479

records: "infrequently recorded on large tree trunks, and on walls of buildings, less commonly than T. parvicarinata, at night" (J&L); specimen collected in Douentza area

notes: bush gecko, small (shorter than a ballpoint pen), body more robust than for Ptyodactylus, back grey-brown with dark brown mottling roughly in two longitudinal stripes from head to hind legs.

image: Gekkota

Tarentola parvicarinata ("Sierra Leone wall gecko") 60480

records: ("An abundant species inside and on the walls of buildings, especially in towns"; mostly southern and central but one record from Gao)

taxonomy: there has been confusion among this and other T. spp. in Mali

Tropiocolotes tripolitanus ("northern sand gecko") 60481

records: (e.g. Hombori; "Specimens found under rocks having sought refuge during the day. Probably fairly frequent, not only in rocky habitats, in the arid and Sahelian zones of Mali"); specimens collected or photographed from Kikara (summit) and near Beni (JH)

notes: very small species gecko, found when rocks are lifted (JH)

image: Gekkota

Chamaeleonidae = chameleons (p. 34, 2 spp.)


Chamaeleo africanus 60475

records: "A very commonly seen species in daylight hours during the after the rainy season, especially on bushes and by trees ..." J&L); well-known in Mali (JH)

notes: seen walking slowly and jerkily on ground or found on plant stems

Chamaeleo senegalensis

records: (one report for Gao, mostly southern/western)
Agamidae =agamas (pp. 34-5, 10 spp. including 7 Agama, 1 Trapelus, 2 Uromastyx)

comments (JH): Agama spp. have a distinctive head-bobbing action, and long thin tails. In addition to the very common Agama group agama (house agamas), bush agamas include at least A. sankaranica and A. boueti. Short of DNA analysis they are best analysed by the coloration of breeding males.

For A. boueti and A. sankaranica (along with non-Malian A. boulengeri, A. weidholzi) see brief coverage with B&W photos in Ulrich Joger, Zur Ökologie der Verbreitung wenig bekannter Agamen Westafrikas; Salamandra (Frankfurt) 15(3):31-52, 1979.

color images of throat patterns of adult males of A. paragama, A. agama, A. sankaranica in Philipp Wagner et al., Studies on African Agama VII; Bonner zoologische Beiträge, 56(4):292, 2009.

key to bush agamas (not A. group agama), < Joger (p.c. 2011)

A. sankaranica: solitary on flat ground, peculiar pattern of hourglass-shaped black spots

A. boueti: can climb rocks, bigger


Agama group agama [group needs taxonomic revision] 60472

images (A. agama and A. paragama):

notes: the common diurnal house lizard(s) throughout Mali, conspicuously bob heads up and down (Fr margouillat). Breeding adult males in northern Dogon country have either blood-red or golden heads (perhaps belonging to distinct species). Younger males are darker all over. Females are mostly lighter brown, but have red blotches on their sides when in oestrus. Northern Dogon always have one basic term for 'agama lizard', but use modifiers to indicate color patterns.

Agama agama ("A very abundant species observed everywhere by and on buildings in Mali. Some of the records may in fact be A. paragama." J&L)

Agama paragama ("An abundant species active during daylight hours, often by buildings in northern central Mali" J&L)

Agama boueti 60463

habitat: sand and rocks

records: (Sahelian sp., recorded from Tessalit to Mopti, mostly Gao north); specimen from Koporo-Pe (2011) in sandy plains

notes: (Joger p.c.) can climb rocks, bigger than A. sankaranica

Agama impalearis (Tessalit area in far north)

Agama sankaranica 60473

records: ("common ground dwelling species in wooded savanna"; mostly southern but one record south of Kidal; specimen collected near Douentza)

notes: bush agama, solitary, small, coloration uniform light brown (on our specimen); (Joger p.c.) solitary on flat ground, peculiar pattern of hourglass-shaped black spots

Trapelus mutabilis ("desert agama") (north of Kidal)

many images on web


notes: whiptail lizards (or spiny-tailed agamas) have distinctive thick tails that can be whipped to the sides.

taxonomy: the common local sp. is Uromastyx geyri. The article by Joger & Lambert described a second species, U. maliensis, that occurs primarily north of Gao; it was later relegated to subspecies status as U. dispar maliensis [see T. Wilms & W. Böhme. 2001. Revision of the Uromastyx acanthinura species group, with description of a new species from the central Sahara (Reptilia: Sauria; Agamidae). Zoologische Abhandlungen Staatliches Museum fuer Tierkunde, Dresden 51(8)]

Uromastyx geyri (Kidal, Tessalit) [syn U. acanthinurus (or: acanthinura) geyri] 60496

records: (Kidal, Tessalit)

Uromastyx dispar maliensis (syn U. maliensis, described as such as a new spp. U. maliensis in J&L] 60497

records: (Tessalit to Gao)

Lacertidae (long-tailed, small, mostly in desert) (pp. 35-36, 9 spp. including 5 Acanthodactylus)

website on lacertids:

comments (JH): Lacertids are small, light-colored, long-tailed lizards with relatively large hands and feet, generally fast-moving, mainly confined to deserts. I have not seen any specimens of lacertids in Dogon or montane Songhay areas. Most spp. are not recorded south of the Niger River. However, Acanthodactylus guineensis (no image available) is recorded for Bandiagara, and A. boskianus for just south of Gao. These should be looked for in central Dogon country.
Latastia longicaudata (genus: "long-tailed lizards", can climb) 60485

records: Gao and Goundam (J&L); specimen from Koporo-Pe (2011) in the sandy plains (JH)

images: many on web

Philochortus cf. spinalis (genus: "orangetail lizards") (only record is Bourem, species uncertain)

Acanthodactylus ("fringe-fingered" or "fringe-toed lizards")

Acanthodactylus boskianus 60483

records: only record is just south of Gao, where it is "common ... in the dry season")

notes: 7 longitudinal stripes of varying contrast on back; well-camouflaged in sand or gravel; runs with tail elevated in semicircle; digs burrows in solidified sand

images on web

Acanthodactylus dumerilii

records: (Tessalit to Goundam)

Acanthodactylus guineensis 60484

records: (only record is Bandiagara)

Acanthodactylus longipes

records: (far northern Sahara well west of Kidal, "confined to mobile dunes")

notes: very slender, very long tail

images on web

Acanthodactylus scutellatus

records: (Tessalit area)

Mesalina rubropunctata ("red-spotted lizard")

records: (Tessalit to south of Kidal)

notes: [4 rows of white spots bordered with dark red, maroon, or black; belly yellowish white, eat ants and beetles; likes stony areas in extreme desert conditions]

Mesalina pasteuri

records: (Mali-Niger-Algeria border, mainly in Hoggar and Aïr)

notes: desert-dweller, beige with one white mid-dorsal longitudinal stripe extending into tail, two lateral stripes on each side, separated by narrow whitish or yellowish lines; no ocelli or spots; likes dunes and mobile sands with tufts of grass, eats small insects

taxonomy: specimen at Field Museum

Scincidae - skinks (p. 36, 6 spp.)

comments (JH). The skinks commonly observed from northern Dogon country up to the Niger River are Chalcides spp. and Trachylepis (formerly Mabuya) spp. Northern Dogon are not very knowledgeable about skinks, though Trachylepis spp. do occur around houses (sometimes entering water jars). For some Dogon speakers, there is one term for all skink species.

stout body, short tail, short limbs: Chalcides cf. ocellatus

slender body, long tail, fairly long legs: Trachylepis (ex Mabuya)

distinct longitudinal stripes from head to tail, coloration in shades of brown: quinquetaeniata

small spots, no distinct longitudinal stripes: perrotetii

Chalcides [on sub-Saharan members of this genus see E. Greenbaum in African Jrnl of Herpetology 54:17-29 1995, and E. Greenbaum et al. in Herpetologica 62(1):71-89 2006]

Chalcides cf. ocellatus ("cylindrical snake") 60492

records: the local Chalcides is this sp. or a closely related one; common in northern Dogon country (JH)

Chalcides delislei [syn Sphenops delislei, thus in J&L, Sphenops now often considered a subgenus of Chalcides] 60491

records: Hombori and Mourdiah (J&L); sands near Pergue (JH)

notes: "a subterranean species, unearthed during seasonal rains"; much smaller than C. ocellatus; fast-moving, shiny eyes

Scincus scincus ("sandfish skink")

records: Tessalit, Timbuktu

notes: transverse stripes or bars on pale background, Saharan, north of the Niger R.; much larger than Chalcides or Trachylepis.

image: reptile database jcvi (several)

Scincopus fasciatus ("banded skink")

records: only record is Timbuktu

notes: yellow-orange back with 7-8 broad black transverse bands, equally spaced; short tail, large body and head

image: reptile database jcvi

Sphenops [see Chalcides delislei]

Trachylepis quinquetaeniata [syn Mabuya quinquetaeniata scharica, thus in J&L] 60495

records: ("An abundant species active during daylight hours, including the hot dry season, in northern central Mali"; recorded Bourem to Bamako); Gao, Douentza, often in gardens (JH)

image: reptile database jcvi

Trachylepis perrotetii [syn Mabuya perrotetii, thus in J&L] 60494

records: ("Recorded occasionally in northern central Mali, commoner further south and seen in gardens of houses in Bamako")

image: reptile database jcvi

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