In light of the recent viper sightings in the UAE, we compiled a list of snakes usually found in the UAE. While some of these reptiles are harmless, there are few venomous varieties to look out for.
Dr. Reza Khan, a wild life expert working at Dubai Municipality and former head of Dubai Zoo, shared the following information from the manuscript of his yet-to-be-published book titled Wildlife of the UAE.
The blind snake (Ramphotyphlops brahminus) is possibly the smallest snake of the region, barely touching 18 cm or less. Smooth shiny and dark brown or pinkish in colour; rudimentary eyes covered with transparent scales. It is a burrowing, worm-like snake spending the day inside moist soil, like flowerpots.
They occasionally show up in the night. They feed on ants, termites and other insects that live in the soil. So far scientists have not found any male member of this species. Therefore, it is an all-female species, reproducing unisexually through parthenogenetic process.
Many people wrongly designate it as a 'double-headed' snake, meaning one head in front of the neck and another at the tail-end! The plausible explanation is that the tail is blunt and superficially similar to the head. Moreover, the tip of the tail is slightly hooked to provide an anchorage for the snake when it tries to burry its head into the soil. That gives the wrong impression that the snake is trying 'tail-end head'. It is a harmless and nocturnal animal.
Like earthworms it may be termed as a 'natural tiller' simply because it aerates the soil.
The Thread Snake (Leptotyphlops macrorhynchus) is the thinnest snake of the region, hence called a thread snake. It is not more than 2mm in diameter and ranges from 20 to 25 cm in length. This snake also has a shiny body, usually dark brown to reddish in colour.
It is nocturnal in habit. It can resemble a round worm. This snake needs a lot of soil moisture and so it can be found in homes. Remember they are non-venomous, so don’t kill them.
It is of maximum length 65cm. It is colourful with shiny dorsal scales marked with brown and orange blotches. Its ventral scales are slightly enlarged and differentiated from other scales. Both eyes and nostrils are on the dorsal aspect of the head. This snake has a short tail; sharply pointed, ending in a claw-like tip.
It lives on the sand surface and inside as well. It is usually nocturnal, kills prey by constricting. It feeds on lizards, rodents and small birds. Some people keep these reptiles in their homes as pets. Others catch them in the desert and bring them to the Dubai Zoo. We then release them back into the desert.
Arabian Rat Snake
The Arabian Rat Snake (Coluber ventromaculatus), also referred to as the Rat Snake is little less than a metre long. It is dull brown in colour with some dark blotches in the form of crossbars, arranged irregularly on the dorsal side of the body. It is a diurnal species – meaning it is active in the day and sleeps in the night. These reptiles usually live in farms through sparsely vegetated gravelly plains and the mountainous region. These snakes feed on lizards, birds and rodents killed by constricting.
Wadi or Arabian racer
Wadi or Arabian racer (Coluber rhodorachis) is a type of snake called a Wadi Racer simply because it is found in wadis and mountainous regions. They come with a maximum length of 150 cm. It is possibly the most common diurnal snake found in the area. Almost on every walk through the wadis and Hatta mountains you can find this snake irrespective of the season. It has a very long body, uniformly cylindrical with an unusually tapering tail ending in a needle-like tip. It is basically grey brown with dark markings on the dorsal aspect which coalesces forming a kind of 'half-band'. Its tail is usually spotless and reddish brown. They are also great swimmers, very agile and can disappear in a matter of a twinkle of an eye. They feed on fish, wadi carp, toad, reptiles and birds. It can consume an adult mouse a week.
Leaf-nosed snake (Lytorhynchus diadema), also called Awl-headed snake has a funny shaped rostral shield which is broadly truncate (Leviton et al 1992). This snake is comparatively small with a maximum length of 45cm. It is a colourful and nocturnal snake. Head has a characteristic trident-marking. The basic colour of the snake is pale brown, also dark. These reptiles have white patches in the front and back. They are usually found in the suburbs, shabiyah (settlements), farmlands and mountains. Spends daytime under trash, in burrows and hedges. These reptiles feed on small lizards and insects.
Hooded Malpolon or False cobra
Often branded as a 'cobra', the Malpolon has a partial hood that may be dilated and held side-ways. It is fairly large, 150cm long, slim body with checkered patterns. There is a distinct black blotch just behind the reddish eye quite large and round and species-specific for this snake.
It is commonly found in farms, scrubs and hedges. It is diurnal. They feed primarily on rodents, small birds and lizards. They are short-tempered and may strike with the slightest provocation or may raise the head and expand the hood presenting the same towards the intruder in a side-way fashion.
Mildly venomous, but this snake's venom is not fatal to human beings. Malpolon, like the following two species mentioned below, falls under the category of rear-fanged snake.
This type of snake has a pair of fixed and grooved fangs on the back of the lower jaw. Each of this is connected to a modified salivary gland, known as the Duvernoy's Gland. This glad secretes a mildly toxic, venomous substance, mostly used by the snake for tranquilising its prey.
If bitten by a Malpolon it may not inject any venom into our body because of its posterior position of the fangs. But if it gets a chance to gnaw a person repeatedly it may inject a quantity of venom that might turn out to be fatal for the victim. So far no case has been reported.
The Schokari Sand Racer or Arabian Rearfang or Sand Snake Psammophis schokari is the longest land snake of this region, touching 160cm in length. It has a featureless colour pattern, mostly light brown in colour on the top and whitish bottom. Occasionally these reptiles come with pale stripes from head to tail. This reptile is unbelievably fast moving on the desert sand. It can literally do sand-gliding. It is also found on land, rocks and trees. Lives in the scrub desert, farmland, oasis and hill country. It is diurnal and feeds on lizards, birds and rarely consumes rodents. Temperamentally, it is a cool snake.
Diadem or camel snake
These are one of the larger, snakes with colourful snakes, a well-differentiated head and neck. It is reddish brown in colour and comes with markings on the back and sides. Lives commonly in the oasis, farms and hills. Its chief diet is rodents of both local and exotic origins, lizards and occasionally a bird. Although known to be active both day and night, it can be hiding under rocks one days, drinking from a water pot another day.
Saw-scaled vipers are relatively small snakes, the largest species usually below 90 cm (35 in) long, and the smallest being around 30 cm (12 in).
The head is relatively small and is short, wide, pear-shaped and distinct from the neck. The snout is short and rounded, while the eyes are relatively large and the body is moderately slender and cylindrical.
The dorsal scales are mostly keeled. However, the scales on the lower flanks stick out at a distinct 45° angle and have a central ridge, or keel, that is serrated (hence the common name). The tail is short and the subcaudals are single.
Oman Saw-scaled Viper
Oman Saw-scaled Viper Echis (Omanensis Babocsay) or the carpet viper Echis carinatus is a “colourful, heavy-bodied and short-ish”.
It gives live birth instead of laying eggs. The snake feeds on rodents, lizards, other small snakes and bird chicks.
“Additionally, they eat house mice as they generally live close to human habitations,” he added.
An adult viper can be 40 to 75cm long with a pair of upper front fangs. The upper body is usually greyish or yellowish brown, while the belly is white, speckled with brown or black.
Arabian Sand Viper
The Arabian Sand Viper (Cerastes gasperettii) is an adult size of a sand viper averages 20–35 cm (8-14 inches) in total length (body + tail), with a maximum total length of 50 cm (1.6 ft). Females are larger than males. Small and stout, it has a broad, triangular head with small eyes set well forward and situated on the junction of the side and the top of the head.
Their hunting strategy is unique when compared to that of other viperids because they use a combination of both sit-and-wait ambushing and active hunting.
Active hunting is predominantly used in the months right before hibernation to increase energy intake before the long dormant period.
False Horned Viper
False Horned Viper Pseudocerastes persicus, also called the 'Persian horned viper' is a species of venomous vipers endemic to the Middle East and Asia.
The adults averages between 40 to 70 cm (16 to 28 in) in total length (body + tail), with a maximum total length of 108 cm (43 in) being reported. Females are usually larger than males. These snakes can attain a considerable weight relative to their size, with specimens sometimes exceeding 500 g (1.1 lb).
The head is broad, flat, distinct from the neck and covered with small, imbricate scales. The snout is short and rounded.
What to do when you spot a snake?
If you are in Dubai, Dr. Khan said to call Dubai Municipality on its emergency number - 800900. “The operator will pass the line to the vet or pest control section or to Dubai Safari, who will send professionals to have the reptile picked up.”
What happens in the case of a snake bite
A snake’s venom slowly prevents the blood from clotting. A human body reacts to poisonous venom with pain and swelling, which is then followed by systemic bleeding within six to 72 hours. If untreated, a snake bite may cause internal haemorrhaging and eventually organ failure.
What to do in case of a snake bite
• The affected person or an attendant must immediately call for an ambulance.
• The patient must be in immobile condition.
• Keep the bitten part of the body in a vertical position and do not move it
• Take pain killers
• Put ice on the wound
• Cut the area in an attempt to release the venom, and don’t try to suck out the poison – this will only increase the loss of blood
• Wash the wound with water
Where do you find anti-venom
Dr. Khan said: "Snake bites are very rare in the UAE, he said. But in the unlikely situation where someone has been bitten by a snake – they must reach a hospital within an hour."
“Antivenin or anti-venom for venemous UAE snakes are usually kept at Rashid Hospital in Dubai, Al Qasimi Hospital in Sharjah and some other hospitals. Call for an ambulance immediately. That would be the best thing to do,” he said.
How long does a person survive after being bitten by a snake
“Depends upon many factors,” said Dr. Khan. “Patients can die from shock itself or if they stay calm – they could survive a six to eight hours after the bite. “Anyone bitten by these deadly vipers can die in four to eight hours if anti-venom is not given.”