TriploV thesis: the mamba is in the island, not in blood and bones, but inside the genes of the endemic soá-soá (Philothamnus thomensis), a green tree snake like the mamba, but not venomous.

Science says that there are no mambas in São Tomé e Príncipe, but ancient naturalists refer to the existence of a Dendraspis species in the island of São Tomé. Are they right or wrong? They are all telling lies and they are all telling the truth.

According to Bocage (1905), there are just two specimens of São Tomé Dendraspis, the Fischer’s snake having been collected during Weiss’ trip (Hamburg Museum collection, Germany). The second is Moller’s one (maybe in Museu Zoológico de Coimbra, Portugal).

Fischer’s plate doesn’t seem to show a mamba because the scaling doesn’t agree with Elapidae diagnosis: “R. forwarded the Dendroaspis correspondance with me this morning. Have not gone through it exhaustively, but the plate does not appear to be a mamba. Although the resolution is low on that jpg, the specimen appears to have a loreal scale (located between the preopercular and the nasal scales). To my knowledge, members of the family Elapidae, to wich Dendroaspis belongs, lack this scale. It is certainly a diagnostic character in all African members of the family.” (B.)

1.     Leonardo Fea names the São Tomé Dendraspis as Dendrophis jamesoni (Dendrophis=Philothamnus thomensis), so he calls it mamba-soá-soá or hybrid species;

2.     According to Bocage (1888), Bedriaga describes Dendraspis jamesoni (West African mamba) under the name of Dendraspis angusticeps (East and South African mamba) – it means it is a hybrid, because there are two species in one individual;

3.     Bocage (1888) explains that the greater part of Dendraspis are anomalous; the Fischer’s mamba had 3 anomaly examples in head scaling;

4.      “A specimen from Gaboon in our collections, proceeding from Aubry-Lecomte trip, belongs by its right side to that variety (Dendraspis neglectus) and to the precedent variety (Dendraspis welwitschii) by its left side” (Bocage, 1888) – I’m not a biologist, so I understand that this individual was double as the Bedriaga’s one, and as all the hybrids, but in isolated sides;

5.     Bocage (1892) studies the Bedriaga-Moller specimen; he says that it is identical to Fischer’s  one and classifies it as Dendraspis jamesoni.

6.     Moller states that his Dendraspis specimen had been collected at Mabudo. It is online to show the Moller’s wonderful calligraphy inside the Paulino de Oliveira’s letter. That’s a hybrid document, with two kinds of characters: inside Paulino’s body-communication there are some Moller genes. Paulino was writing to Bocage: “Today I asked Moller for the information you asked me. He brought the snake from São Tomé and it was caught by him at Roça Mabudo. He kept it at home with other snakes, thinking it was a duplicatum. Finally, he decided to send all the duplicata to Bedriaga and among them was that snake.”

7.      Newton tells Bocage that there is no place in São Tomé named Mabudo. Uba-budo, yes, but if Bocage establishes that habitat to the mamba, Moller will be very angry, because he had never visited Uba-Budo. But there is a map (Girard) with the itineraries of Moller and Newton in the islant and they have both visited Uba-Budo.

8.     Newton gives the linguitic notice that uba-budo means stone wall. The stone or more terrestrial Dendraspis beeing the black mamba, he calls black Dendraspis the green one, i. E., he hybridizes the two species.

9.     Bocage states, about the Bedriaga-Moller specimen: this individual, “caught in 1885 in Roça Uba-Budo, close to the Roça Agua-Ize, has been sent later in communication to Mr. Bedriaga by Mr. Moller, the well known explorer of São Tomé. Mr. Moller researches, during a short few months visit, have greatly contributed to the progress of insular botany and zoology. The detailed description of that individual by Mr. Bedriaga doesn’t allow the minimal doubt about the species represented: it belongs to Dendraspis viridis and not to Dendraspis augusticeps (sic, two times the character n has changed into the character u)” (Bocage, 1905).

10.  Angus, don’t forget you have rediscovered an extraordinary species of univalve-bivalve in São Tomé, the Tyrophorella thomensis, for a century invisible to science. I hope Ricka and Bob help you in the study of the soá-soá. The key to your detective work is PHTLOTAMNUS THOMENSIS (as Bedriaga writes, mutatis mutandis), not Dendraspis-nigro-viridis-aaugusta. Moller has probably caught some specimens of Dendraspis viridis in Bolama, when he went to Guinea-Bissau, but this fact is irrelevant because Moller and Newton state that the specimen proceeded from Mabudo-Uba-budo, a real-imaginary or hybrid place.

Maria Estela Guedes
English corrected by Alexandra Escudeiro

Philothamnus thomensis

Bocage, 1882, p. 11, 302: 1 ad., S. Thomé, Craveiro Lopes, 1863; 1 ad., “Ile Saint-Thomé?, 1882, donné par M. Sampaio”; mais ad. e jovens s/outras indicações. “Tous les individus que nous avons pu examiner, ayant une provenance authentique, sont originaires de l’Ile Saint-Thomé; un seul spécimen ne portant aucune indication de localité faisait partie d’une petite collection rapportée d’Angola, mais ayant appartenu à un amateur, M. Toulson, ancien négociant à Loanda, qui l’aurait reçu très probablement de l’Ile Saint-Thomé”. Bocage, 1886, p. 69. N. i. Soá-Soá.

TIPOS. Bocage, 1897b: não havia tipos.

Bocage, 1905, p. 93: exemplares de S. Thomé, Custodio de Borja (classificados como P. irregularis). Tipo: 1 exemplar de Craveiro Lopes.

França, 1908: Philothamnus thomensis Bocage  

Estatuto actual: Philothamnus thomensis Bocage, 1882



Biographical notes on the doctoral dissertation of Jacques von Bedriaga (1854-1906)

In two recent biographical essays on Dr. Jacques von Bedriaga, it is stated that the subject of his doctoral dissertation (1875) was the urogenital organs of reptiles. In fact, Bedriaga dealt in his thesis (which was evaluated by his professor Ernst Haeckel)
with these organs in amphibians. This error dates back to Bogdanow (1891); its maintenance until today may also be due to the fact that this – handwritten – thesis has never been published, and that the only existing copy, deposited in the University of
Jena, must be considered lost. Only a short piece of the dissertation has been published, dealing with a presumed intromittent organ in male newts (Bedriaga 1878). Later on, Bedriaga (1897) considered this structure to be a turgescent gland serving to
spread the cloacal lips of the male newts.

Key words: Jacques von Bedriaga, doctoral dissertation; Amphibia: Caudata; biography.

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Böhme, Zoologisches Forschungsinstitut und Museum Alexander Koenig, Adenauerallee 160, D-53113 Bonn.

MÜLLER, G. H.: Zur Kontroverse zwischen THEODOR EIMER und JACQUES VON BEDRIAGA über die Färbung mediterraner Eidechsen. AuR
41: 101-116, 1994