01 October 2016

Schokari sand racer near Zulfi – Record by Mansur Al Fahad

The Schokari sand racer Psammophis schokari is a wide ranging species that can be found throughout Northern Africa, as far south as Chad, Somalia and Ethiopia. Its range also extends throughout the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East to Central Asia, occurring as far north as Turkmenistan and as far east as Pakistan and north-west India. It is one of the fastest snakes in the Middle East and has a thin body with variable colouration and patterning and an elongated head, featuring large golden-brown eyes with rounded pupils. Three main colour forms are recognised: a striped form, which has four dark, longitudinal stripes running over the upperparts; a non-striped form, which is either unmarked or lightly dotted; and a rear-striped from, with dark, longitudinal stripes only on the posterior part of the body, which merge towards the anterior. The background colouration is generally olive, tan or beige and there are also often dark stripes running from the snout, past the eyes, to the rear of the head. This variation in colouration and markings is believed to be an adaptation to the particular environment that individual specimens occupy. The jaws of this species bear two non-venomous, fang-like teeth in the upper jaw, at level of front-edge of the eye, and two strongly enlarged, grooved, venomous fangs, at the level of the rear edge of the eye. They occur in well-vegetated areas, including cultivated areas, among trees and shrubs, as well as in areas of sand and gravel where low shrubs and grasses occur. It can be found from sea-level to high-altitude mountainous regions. It is an agile and active daytime predator, when chasing prey and is capable of reaching speeds of up to 16 kilometres per hour and can even climb trees in order to reach adult birds and nestlings. Prey includes lizards, small birds, rodents and other snakes, which are captured with a swift bite followed by a chewing motion to deliver the snake’s venom. Once immobilised, the prey is swallowed head first. Despite being a venomous species, the Schokari sand racer is not dangerous to humans, and in response to threats its main from of defence is to use its speed to escape.