16 August 2014

Arabian Horned Viper at Abqaiq Jebel 234 – Record by Cliff Paterson

The Arabian Horned Viper Cerastes gasperettii is found in desert and semi-desert habitats, and is well adapted to life on arid sandy and stony ground, and occurs up to elevations of 1,500 metres. It has sandy-coloured upperparts, marked with faint, light brown crossbars along the back, and white or yellowish underparts. The head is broad and roughly triangular, while the body is covered with keeled scales and it has a short tail. The purpose of the horns, which can be depressed, is not known and not all individuals have the horned scales. Like other vipers, this species has hinged, hollow fangs, which lie flat when the mouth is closed and swing forward when opened, and are capable of injecting large quantities of venom. They are 60 – 80 centimeters in length and are active from dusk until dawn, and well-camouflaged amongst the sand and rocks, the most obvious sign of their presence is usually the sinuous tracks it leaves while employing its sidewinding method of movement. They use both active pursuit as well as ambush to capture prey and often bury their body and head beneath the sand using rapid side-to-side wriggling, until only the eyes and snout are exposed. The snake then lays in wait for prey such as lizards, small birds and rodents to approach, before striking with lightning speed and injecting the animal with its powerful venom killing it quickly. When threatened, this species coils its body and rubs its keeled scales together to create a rasping sound, and it will also hiss and inflate its body before resorting to striking. They are found in the Middle East and throughout the Arabian Peninsula. There are two subspecies with Cerastes gasperettii gasperettii, the one found in Saudi Arabia as well as the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Oman, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Iraq & south-west Iran.

This individual was at Jebel 234 near Abqaiq. Cliff left camp before sunrise with his long lens hoping to catch a dramatic sunrise. He climbed up the Jebel to gain some elevation then lay prone on the ground to steady the lens. As he was shooting, he felt something against his left arm and pushed it away without looking as he was focused on the shot. Again, he felt something against his left arm, and pushed the assumed insect away with more vigor. This happened again a third time upon which his attention was quickly refocused by what sounded like a rattlesnake. Cliff assumed it select him for a warming cuddle on this particular cool winter day.