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Superregnum: Eukaryota
Regnum: Animalia
Subregnum: Eumetazoa
Cladus: Bilateria
Cladus: Nephrozoa
Superphylum: Deuterostomia
Phylum: Chordata
Cladus: Craniata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Infraphylum: Gnathostomata
Superclassis: Tetrapoda
Cladus: Reptiliomorpha
Cladus: Amniota
Classis: Reptilia
Cladus: Eureptilia
Cladus: Romeriida
Subclassis: Diapsida
Cladus: Sauria
Infraclassis: Lepidosauromorpha
Superordo: Lepidosauria
Ordo: Squamata
Subordo: Serpentes
Infraordo: Caenophidia
Superfamilia: Colubroidea

Familia: Colubridae
Subfamilia: Grayiinae
Genus: Grayia
Species: G. caesar – G. ornata – G. smythii – G. tholloni

Grayia Guenther, 1858
Vernacular names
English: African Water Snakes

Grayia is a genus of snakes, commonly referred to as African water snakes, in the family Colubridae. The genus, which is native to tropical Africa, is the only genus in the colubrid subfamily Grayiinae.

Grayia species are relatively poorly known snakes, at least to herpetologists.[2] Although they are locally abundant, they are notoriously difficult to catch,[3] and occur in areas where field work is difficult. They inhabit seasonal rainforest swamps, streams, and permanent water bodies,[4] eat fish and frogs, and lay eggs in the leaf litter among humid enclosures formed by buttress roots during the dry season.[3] They are unusual in that they deposit their clutch in small batches of three or four eggs at different times at more than one nest site, rather than laying all the eggs at once,[3] a strategy used by some turtles to avoid nest predation, but otherwise undocumented in snakes.

At least one species, G. ornata, is used for food and in medicine by people in Gabon,[2] and evidently is known to them to be nonvenomous; a person who has been bitten by a Grayia snake is believed to be protected for life against bites from other snakes.[2]


The generic name, Grayia, is in honor of British herpetologist John Edward Gray,[5] who coined many commonly used generic names.

The specific name smythii is in honor of Norwegian botanist Christen Smith.[5] The specific name tholloni is in honor of François-Romain Thollon (1855–1896), who was a French collector of natural history specimens in Africa.[5]

These four species are recognized as being valid:[6]

Grayia caesar (Günther, 1863) – Caesar's African water snake
Grayia ornata (Bocage, 1866) – ornate African water snake
Grayia smythii (Leach, 1818) – Smith's African water snake
Grayia tholloni Mocquard, 1897 – Thollon's African water snake

Nota bene: A binomial authority in parentheses indicates that the species was originally described in a genus other than Grayia.

"Grayia ". Dahms Tierleben.
Pauwels OS, Toham AK, Mamonekene V (2002). "Ethnozoology of the dibomina (Serpentes: Colubridae: Grayia ornata) in the Massif du Chaillu, Gabon" (PDF). Hamadryad. 27: 136–141.
Akani GC, Luiselli L (2001). "Ecological studies on a population of the water snake Grayia smythii in a rainforest swamp of the Niger Delta, Nigeria". Contributions to Zoology. 70 (3): 139–146. doi:10.1163/18759866-07003002.
Luiselli L, Akani GC, Angelici FM, Ude L, Wariboko SM (2005). "Seasonal variation in habitat use in sympatric Afrotropical semi-aquatic snakes, Grayia smythii and Afronatrix anoscopus (Colubridae)". Amphibia-Reptilia. 26 (3): 372–376. doi:10.1163/156853805774408513.
Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. (Grayia, p. 107; G. smythii, p. 247; G. tholloni, p. 265).

Genus Grayia at The Reptile Database

Further reading

Boulenger GA (1894). Catalogue of the Snakes in the British Museum (Natural History). Volume II., Containing the Conclusion of the Colubridæ Aglyphæ. London: Trustees of the British Museum (Natural History). (Taylor and Francis, printers). xi + 382 pp. + Plates I-XX. (Genus Grayia, p. 286).
Günther A (1858). Catalogue of the Colubrine Snakes in the Collection of the British Museum. London: Trustees of the British Museum. (Taylor and Francis, printers). xvi + 281 pp. (Grayia, new genus, pp. 50–5


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