28 September 2011

Hooded Malpolon - Sabkhat Al Fasl

No birdwatching today as I was at a conference in Bahrain, but Phil Roberts had a Crested Honey Buzzard, the first returning bird of the year for us down here and nine Purple Heron in Dhahran Camp yesterday. I have posted details from at Sabkhat Al Fasl on 22nd September where I saw a Hooded Malpolon (Malpolon moilensis) that had been captured by a local man and was safely inside an empty water bottle. I said hello to him as he drove past in his car and he stopped and asked if I would like to see a snake, of which I jumped at the chance. He said he was releasing the snake as a good luck charm when someone dies in his village. He took the sake out of the water bottle and quickly grabbed it by the head to show me and then released it in the area by the main pool. I was able to take quite a few photographs of it as a result - a lucky encounter for me.

The Hooded Malpolon is named for its unusual, cobra-like defensive behaviour, in which it lifts the front third of its body off the ground, holds it at a 45° angle, dilates the neck into a ‘hood’, and hisses. Despite the cobra-like defensive posture, which also gives rise to the alternative name of ‘False Cobra’, they are not related to Cobras. They have poison sacs and one or two large grooved fangs situated just behind the eye but are only very mildly venomous, and not considered dangerous to humans. The head is rather elongated, and clearly distinct from the neck, with a convex forehead and a pointed snout, which protrudes over the mouth. The body ranges in colour from yellowish to sandy grey or reddish yellow, with irregular and indistinct dark spots on the back and sides giving it a chequered pattern, and a cream or white underside, sometimes with reddish speckles. The head bears one or two large dark bars on each side, and the large eyes have a conspicuous red or orange iris and a round black pupil. Although sometimes growing to 1.5 metres in length, this snake more usually measures 70 to 90 centimetres, with the female being larger than the male, but having a proportionately shorter tail. More information on the Hooded Malpolon can be found under the Wildlife tab at the top of the page