03 December 2014

Burton's Carpet Viper near Tabuk – Record by Viv Wilson

Viv Wilson sent me a few photos of a of a Burton's Carpet Viper Echis coloratus coloratus near Tabuk taken in mid-November 2014. I would like to thank Mansur Al Fahad for identifying the snake for me from the photographs and correcting my error in sub-species. This is a venomous snake with a relatively short, stocky body, a wide head and vertical pupils. They are usually grey, brown or brownish-red, with a lighter underside and with a pattern of large, light pinkish or greyish blotches or cross-bands along the back. The upper side of the head is usually brown, with a lighter ‘X’ shaped marking and a darker grey streak that runs from the corner of the mouth to the eye. It is named after its defensive display where it rubs its scales together by drawing opposing coils of the body against each other that produces a loud sawing sound. They feed on small mammals, frogs, toads, birds, lizards and large invertebrates by striking its prey, withdrawing immediately and then following its prey using chemical cues until its venom has immobilised the victim. The majority of viper species give birth to live young; however, the Burton’s Carpet Viper is somewhat unusual in laying eggs. The type locality is Jebel Shárr Midian, Saudi Arabia but it has now been found in south-west Oman, Yemen, west and central Saudi Arabia, south Jordan, Negev Desert, Sinai and northeast Egypt, the other sub-species is the Palestine Saw-scaled Viper E. coloratus terraesanctae only found in North Judean Desert in Israel and the west bank. They avoid sandy habitats, preferring rocky or hard terrain, and are often found near sources of water and have been found up to 2,000 metres above sea level.