Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard (Uromastyx aegyptia microlepis)

The Spiny-tailed Lizard (Uromastyx spp.) is a medium to large sized, heavily built lizard with a spiny club like tail, which has been likened to a small living dinosaur. They are ground dwelling and live in some of the most arid regions of the planet including northern Africa, the Middle East, Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and north-western India. The generic name (Uromastyx) is derived from the Ancient Greek words ourá (ορά) meaning "tail" and mastigo (Μαστίχα) meaning "whip" or "scourge", after the thick-spiked tail characteristic of the species. When cold they are a blue colour (see bottom photograph) and when warm from sunbathing they are a yellow colour (top two photographs).

The Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard (Uromastyx aegyptia microlepis) is most common in Saudi Arabia and is the one that occurs in Dhahran and is generally regarded as a subspecies of the Egyptian Spiny-tailed Lizard (Uromastyx aegyptia). It is locally known to the Arabs as 'Dhub' (Arabic:'ضب'). The main diagnostic character of the genus is the highly specialised tooth-like bony structure replacing the incisor teeth in the upper jaw in adults. The Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard can be distinguished from Egyptian Spiny-tailed Lizard (Uromastyx aegyptia aegyptia) by lacking enlarged tubercular scales scattered over the scalation of the flanks, having 149193 (mean 171.8) ventral scales rather than 126 – 158 (mean 142). Other features include a smaller scale size and more colourful yellow or greenish colour when warmed-up in adult specimens of Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard. It is distinguished from Uromastyx leptieni by a different juvenile colour pattern and a higher number of ventrals.

Spotted Toad-headed Agama (Phrynocephalus maculatus)
The Spotted Toad-headed Agama (Phrynocephalus maculatus), also called the Blacktail Toad-headed Agama, is a member of the Agamidae family, and has a body colour that is highly variable, but typically has distinct brown bars across the body and tail. It also tends to match the colour of its background and lizards found on pale coastal sands tend to be paler and less patterned than those on red, inland sands. The agamid lizards are also known as the chisel-teeth lizards due to the compressed, fused teeth being firmly attached to the upper jaw, unlike most other lizards which have loosely attached teeth. The head is short and broad, with a deep forehead and snub nose, and the flattened body is wide and strong and covered in rough skin with overlapping scales. The long, flattened tail is rounded at the base and has a black tip on the underside which, when raised, is used in visual signals. The spotted toad-headed agama is known from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Syria, Oman, northern Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. The species inhabits harder sandy surfaces where it is often associated with coastal salt flats known as ‘sabkhas’ ad rocky islands. The Arabian Toad-headed Agama prefers sandy desert areas.
They are active in all but the hottest hours of the day looking for insect prey and during the hottest periods, they will stand high on extended legs to limit contact with the sand, balancing on fingertips and heels while using the tail as a prop. They are able to sink rapidly into the sand by vibrating the body in a process called ‘shimmy burial’, and it uses this behaviour to escape from predators or create a nocturnal shelter. They lay eggs, producing a clutch of one to seven which are incubated for around six to eight weeks in a burrow.
Two species of Toad-headed Agama live in the region with Arabian Toad-headed Agama (P. arabicus) being the second species. The species are relatively easy to identify by the relatively longer tail compared to snout-vent length in P. maculatus of 130-160%, as opposed to 100-125% in P. arabicus. The two species can also be told apart by their shape, colour & number of scales present between the eye and lip. P. arabicus is short-bodied dark grey above with creamy white spots and the upper-side of the tail paler than the body and lacking the spots. The ventral body parts were white with the under-side of the tail orange from the vent to the dark tail band and the species has three to four scales between the eye and lip. P. maculatus is relatively slim and long-bodied and appears larger than P. arabicus and has five to six scales between the eye and lip. The upper-side of the body is sandy grey with five broad dark brown cross bars, with the bars continuing on the tail from vent to the end of the tail with a longer dark terminal tail band, about 20% of the tail length (Al Sirhan & Brown 2010).
Al Sirhan, A-R & Brown, G. 2010. The status of the two Toad-headed Agamas, Phrynocephalus arabicus (Anderson, 1894) & P. maculatus (Anderson, 1872), in Kuwait. Zoology in the Middle East 51, 2010: 23-30

Yellow-spotted Agama (Trapelus flavimaculatus)
The Yellow-spotted Agama Trapelus flavimaculatus is a common species of lizard found in arid regions of the Middle East from Egypt: North of the Eastern Desert & Northern Sinai to the Arabian Peninsula including Saudi Arabia. They are readily distinguished from the Sinai agama Pseudotrapelus sinaitus by their heavier build, rougher scales and the presence of a gular sac which is darkened and inflated as a threat display. The ear opening is smaller and its dorsal margin is partially covered by pointed scales. In the summer these lizards often sit atop Acacia trees or prominent rocks as a territorial display and to regulate their temperature. They are quite aggressive with a mainly carnivorous diet of small insects. Their skin colour varies from reddish-brown to olive‐green, and is covered in a pattern of heavy yellowish-white spots. Their tails are normally pale yellow; however, male Yellow-spotted Agamas have the ability to go from this drab coloration to something much more vivid and spectacular. When threatened, or when challenged by a competing male, the male Yellow-spotted Agama unfolds a flap of skin (called a gular sac) under his neck, opens his mouth wide and transforms. The dull reddish-brownish-green skin turns vivid blue, and the pale yellow tail glows brilliant flaming orange. Sometimes a male Agama will only change partially turning just the underside of his head blue, for instance. The colour change happens in seconds and fades just as quickly. Agama lizards are also known as ‘chisel-teeth’ lizards. Their teeth are different than those of other lizards because they are firmly attached to the lizards’ jawbones, whereas most other types of lizard have teeth that are set loosely in their gums. Agamas’ teeth have a distinct cutting edge like a chisel, which is where the name ‘chisel-teeth’ comes from. Interestingly, not all agama lizards have the same diet, despite having the same unusual teeth. It Is thought that their chisel teeth are multi-purpose, able to cut up insects or tear off plant matter into pieces that are easy to swallow, since lizards, like most reptiles, do not chew their food before swallowing.

Arabian Toad-headed Agama (Phrynocephalus arabicus)
The Arabian Toad-headed (or Toadhead) Agama is a small to medium sized lizard that inhabits arid areas of many countries including Saudi Arabia. They employ a sit a wait method of hunting and use thier excellent eyesight to spot prey. They are out hunting even in the midday heat when temperatures can reach >50 degrees C. They minimize contact with the hot sand and try to keep thier bodies as far off the sand as possible. The species ranges from south-east Jordon into the Arabian Peninsula, including much of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Iran. It is also possibly present in southern Iraq. They are found in areas of soft, wind blown sand as well as harder and dryer subtrates with space vegetation and occassionally can occur on boulders. The females lay between one and two eggs in a clutch.

Blandfords Agama (Trapelus ruderatus)
Blandfords Agama Trapelus ruderatus ranges from northeastern Jordan and southern Syria, through northern and eastern Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait and southern and central Iran as far south as Shiraz. The species occurs from close to sea level to around 1,000 metres above sea level. It can be moderately common in suitable habitat. This ground-dwelling species is associated with low shrubs (Nitraria) on the fringe of sandy dunes in arid areas and in sandy desert areas. It can sometimes be found perching on bushes but is not found in modified areas. It is a Blanford's Agama Trapelus ruderatus because of the lines on its back which are missing on Yellow-spotted Agama.

Desert (Pale) Agama (Trapelus mutabilis pallidus
The Desert Agama Trapelus mutabilis is a small to medium-sized lizard with a rather flattened body and a short, thick head with its key characteristics being the small spines located around the openings of its ears. It has long hind limbs, long digits with quite large claws, and a fairly stout, cylindrical tail which is only slightly longer than the body. They are usually grey-brown to sandy grey in colour, with four to five brown stripes running along their backs and have a tail that is horizontally striped with brown or dark grey. In the breeding season, the male desert agama develops a violet-blue throat and flanks or a blue to light grey head while in the female the head becomes orange. The Desert Agama inhabits deserts and semi-deserts, in areas with very little rainfall, typically inhabiting areas of stone plains, which have a covering of sparse vegetation and lots of gravel. It is widespread across northern Africa, occurring from Western Sahara, Mauritania and Morocco east to Egypt and Sudan. The subspecies T. m. pallidus Pale Agama occurs in the north central region of Saudi Arabia to Jordan, west Iraq, Israel and the Sinai. The taxonomy of the desert agama has been much debated with three subspecies often recognised. Of these Trapelus mutabilis pallidus has often been considered to be a separate species, the Pale Agama Trapelus pallidus. This form differs in having more uniformly sized, smooth scales on the back, and a blue head rather than a blue throat and flanks in breeding males. However, recent genetic and morphological studies have supported the classification of the Pale Agama as a subspecies of the Desert Agama.
Photograph curtesy of Mansur Al Fahad

Anderson's Rock Agama (Acanthocerus adramitanus)
The Anderson's Rock Agama Acanthocercus adramitanus is endemic to the Arabian Peninsula, where it is found in west and south Arabia, from Taif (Saudi Arabia) in the north to Dhofar (Oman) in the east. Its range includes Oman, Yemen, and south western Saudi Arabia and is the most common species of Agama in Yemen. It is also common in Saudi Arabia on rocks. It is a rock dwelling lizard mainly present in mountainous areas and is found to around 2,000 metres above sea level but we saw one at 2200 metres above sea level at Tanumah Park in south-west Saudi Arabia. Populations can be found on vertical rocks, rock steps and amongst boulders often in the vicinity of water. They can occur in precipitous wadis surrounded by dense vegetation, with the animals usually seen on the top of boulders. They do not however require water, obtaining moisture from their insect prey.

Yellow-bellied House Gecko (Hemidactylus flavivirids)

Yellow-bellied House Gecko Hemidactylus flaviviridis occur through parts of the Arabian Peninsula including Saudi Arabia as well as Afghanistan, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Iraq, Nepal, Pakistan and Somalia and can vary their body colour depending on the time of day, being greyish, olive or brown, patterned with indistinct bands on the back and yellowish on the underside. During the day, the gecko is usually much darker in colour, with contrasting, chevron-shaped bands on the body with the toes having broad pads and small claws. They are associated with man-made structures such as houses, but during the day, they retreat to undisturbed crevices and other such hiding places coming out at night to feed primarily on insects. They can climb vertical walls and walk on ceilings which is achieved by having specialised toe pads, which are covered in small scales called ‘scansors’ which can have up to 150,000 microscopic, highly branched, hair-like structures, known as setae, which form hundreds of saucer-shaped ‘end plates’. This gives the Gecko an enormous surface area in relation to its body size, enabling it to grip all kinds of surfaces. This species of Gecko has particularly large and sensitive eyes, with pupils which open-wide at night to let in maximum amounts of light, giving it excellent vision in the dark. The pupils contract to vertical slits during the day to protect the retina from harsh sunlight, while the eyelids are fused to form a transparent cover for additional protection. Any dust or debris in the eye is licked away by the gecko’s extremely mobile tongue.

Baluch Gecko (Bunopus tuberculatus)
The Baluch Ground Gecko Bunopus tuberculatus is a small, ground-dwelling gecko with rather short, straight toes, a long tail, and conspicuous tubercles on the back and flanks. The body is generally tan coloured, giving good camouflage against its sandy habitat, and the tail is barred. As in other geckos, the eyelids are fused together, forming a transparent covering to the eye, however, unlike many other geckos, it lacks expanded toe pads, and is therefore unable to climb vertical surfaces. As its common name suggests, it lives on the ground, digging burrows in the sand and also hiding under surface debris. It is likely to be active at night, feeding on a variety of insects, spiders and other small invertebrates but little is known about it lifestyle. They have been reported as abundant and widespread in vegetated sandy plains and in coastal habitats and can also be found in rocky deserts and near farms, but are not seen in homes. They are found in the Middle East, Arabian Peninsula and southwest Asia, from Israel, Jordan and Syria, south into Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Oman, north to Turkmenistan and east to Pakistan. 

Photograph curtesy of Mansur Al Fahad
Rough-tailed Bowfoot Gecko (Cyrtopodion scabrum)
The Rough-tailed Bowfoot Gecko Cyrtopodion scabrum is a small, nocturnal ground gecko, with exceptionally long, angular toes. The head is flattened downwards, and the eyes are large, lacking eyelids, with vertical pupils that can be contracted during the day to prevent light from damaging the retina. The tail is longer than the head and body and is relatively flat and tapered, with rows of prominent keeled scales and a series of ridged, wart-like bumps, called tubercles, which are arranged regularly along the length of the back. It is sandy in colour and whiter underneath, marked with regular brown spots on the body, and brown bands on the tail. They are active during the night, hunting for small insects such as ants, termites, beetles, moths, and grasshoppers, often foraging in artificially lit areas, often associated with human habitation, where it picks off insects that are attracted to the light. They are distributed throughout southwest Asia, including south east Turkey, Iraq, the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is primarily found in disturbed habitats such as towns, oil camps and desert farms and also lives in homes in villages, but is very rare in cities.
Photograph curtesy of Mansur Al Fahad

Yellow Fan-fingered Gecko (Ptyodactylus hasselquistii)

Yellow Fan-fingered Gecko Ptyodactylus hasselquistii is common in homes in central Saudi Arabia although they alos occur in caves and the edges of mountains. The lizard has long legs that end in widely splayed toes, tipped on either side by a wide, fan-like fringe from which the lizard gets its common name. The body colouration is pallid, helping to provide camouflage amongst its rocky habitat. They are a relatively vocal species, with males calling with a series of chirrups at night that can be heard at a distance of over 50 metres. The common fan-footed gecko is a nocturnal species, emerging after dusk from daytime refuges such as caves and crevices to feed on insects and spiders. They are generally sociable and often encountered in small groups and have a widespread range extending throughout North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East. Populations occur from Morocco east to Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, north as far as Iran, and south as far as eastern Ethiopia and northern Somalia.

Photograph curtesy of Mansur Al Fahad
Desert Monitor (Varanus griseus griseus)

The Desert Monitor Varanus griseus, is a species of monitor lizard with three subspecies, the one occurring in Saudi Arabia being Varanus griseus griseus also called the Grey Monitor. This subspecies is found from Northern Africa throughout the Sahara, Arabian Peninsula and southwestern Asia eastwards to northwestern India. It has 5-8 narrow grey bands on the back as well as 19-28 bands on the tail, the highest number of bands of any subspecies. Its tail is more rounded that those of the other subspecies and the final size of the adults average around one to 1.3 mtres in length (approximately 55–65 cm excluding their tail) with their overall body size dependent on the available food supply, the time of year, environmental climate, and reproductive state, with males generally larger than females. The body is long and robust, with sturdy limbs, and a long, powerful tail which can be used liked a whip in defence as they are aggressive reptiles. The nostrils of this species are particularly distinctive, comprising diagonal slits much closer to the eye than the tip of the snout. Their coloration can be a simple grey if living in desert-like ecosystems, to more brilliantly colored if living in areas with large amounts of plant growth. It is a carnivorous lizard that feeds on a wide range of vertebrates and invertebrates with the most common prey consisting of lizards and snakes, but can also include ground-nesting birds and other small mammals. They hibernate from September to April becoming most active between the months of May and July. They are active during the day, emerging from their burrows in the early morning, and basking in the sun at the entrance in order to raise their body temperature often staying in their burrows during the heat of the day. During a single day, Desert Monitors range over large distances, usually between five and six kilometres, returning to their burrow before sunset. They are predominantly desert-dwelling, although can occupy a variety of arid and semi-arid habitats with a specific habitat requirement being the presence of sand or soft soil in which tracks can be made for communication and orientation. Their skin is adapted to the desert environment in which they live, and they are excellent swimmers sometimes entering water to hunt for food and have a lifespan of approximately eight years.

Photographs curtesy of Viv Wilson

Roughtail Rock Agama (Laudakia stellio)

The Roughtail Rock Agama Laudakia stellio is also known as a Hardim or Star Lizard and is a species of agamid lizard found in Greece, Central Macedonia, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, northern Saudi Arabia, Cyprus, Jordan and Israel. Like many agamas it can change colour to express its moods. The name ‘stellion’ comes from Latin stellio, stēlio (stelliōn-, stēliōn-), which referred to any spotted lizard, from stella star. It has a flat triangular head and a flat short body with long legs. It hibernates during winter. Its diet consists of mainly insects and plants. They are a rock-dwelling species of lizards inhabiting dry areas and even though it is very cautious and hides as soon as it perceives danger, during the mating season the males defend their territory by putting themselves in prominent positions, displaying their intentions by a characteristic nodding movement of the head. It is a large (up to 30 centimetres), robust lizard with a flattened, spiny body, a wide, triangular head, long legs and a long tail. The neck is particularly spiny, and rows of spines run across the body, flanks and tail and is capable of quite rapid colour changes, typically becoming lighter when warm and darker when cold. Dominant male starred agamas are particularly brightly coloured, often showing reddish-brown, turquoise and tan markings. They are generally light or dark brown to grey or charcoal-coloured, with a series of yellowish, diamond-shaped markings along the back. The throat may be flecked with dark spots, and the tail often has conspicuous bars. However, it is quite variable in appearance across its range, with individuals from some areas having pale yellow or red heads and unspotted throats. They have sharp claws that help it to climb on rocks, walls, buildings and trees. 

Photographs curtesy of Viv Wilson

Schmidt's Fringed-toed Lizard (Acanthodactylus scmidti)
Schmidt's Fringed-toed Lizard (Acanthodactylus schmidti) is one of the most abundant species in the genus Acanthodactylus found in Saudi Arabia and occupies sandy plains, dunes and sabkhas (salt flats), particularly in areas of scrubby vegetation. It was named after Karl Patterson Schmidt, with a type locality of Dhahran, Saudi Arabia and it can be distinguished by the exceptionally long fourth toe found on each of its rear feet. As its name suggests it has 'fringes' of elongated scales along the sides of each toe, which are thought to provide better traction on loose sand. It has a light brown or coffee coloured back that is richly speckled with oval-shaped, pale or white spots and can grow to 18 centimetres in length. They have a cylindrical body with smooth, rectangular scales on the belly which are arranged in well-defined rows and scales on the head which are larger than those on the rest of the body. Little is known about the biology of the species but it is thought that its main prey is ants and when prey is located they instantly go rigid, suddenly quiver thier tail and strike. It is a diurnal species which digs burrows in the sand among the roots of vegetation and is found throughout the Arabian Peninsula including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, south-east Iraq and south-west Iran.

Golden Grass Mabuya (Trachlepis septemtaeniata)
Golden Grass Mabuya Trachylepis septemtaeniata is a common lizard around the houses of Dhahran Camp as well as elsewhere and was formally known as Mabuya aurata and were generally regarded as three subspecies that were recognized on the basis of colour pattern and number of gular and ventral scales. Mausfeld et al. (2002) partitioned the genus Mabuya into four genera and restricted the application of the name Mabuya to the South American clade of these skinks. Therefore the skinks known formerly as M. aurata are assigned with the generic name Trachylepis. Trachylepis septemtaeniata (Reuss, 1834) is the valid name for the populations, which are characterised by third supraocular shield being in contact with the frontal shield (see diagram) and by pattern of four longitudinal rows of small dark spots on the dorsum (the spots can fuse anteriorly and disappear posteriorly). This species is known from Eritrea, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkmenistan (Moravec et al. (2006).

Moravec, J.L., Franzen, M. & Böhme, W. (2006): Notes on the taxonomy, nomenclature and distribution of the Trachylepis (formerly Mabuya) aurata (Linnaeus, 1758) complex. Proceedings of the 13th Congress of the Societas Europaea Herpetologica. pp. 89-93

Mausfeld, P., Schmitz, A., Böhme, W., Misof, B., Vrcibradic, D., Rocha, C.F.D. (2002): Phylogenetic affi nities of Mabuya atlantica Schmidt, 1945, endemic to the Atlantic Ocean archipelago of Fernando de Noronha (Brazil): necessity of partitioning the genus Mabuya Fitzinger, 1826 (Scincidae: Lygosominae). Zool. Anz. 241: 281- 293.

Sandfish (Scincus sincus)
The Sandfish Scincus scincus is a species of skink that burrows into the sand and literally swims through it. The sandfish is found in northern Africa east into Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran. The animal is also found in the Omani deserts. Adult sandfish usually reach about 20 cm in length, including the short tail that tapers to a point and have developed a peculiar way of dealing with the desert heat; it possesses the ability to dive into soft sand where it closes its bead like eyes to prevent sand entering them. It does this to prevent overheating (as it is cold-blooded) and whenever it feels threatened. The name originated because of its ability to move through sand like a fish and is also known as the Sand Swimmer. It has a wedge-shaped snout with very small nostrils to keep out the sand, long tapered body covered with smooth, shiny scales, legs that are short and sturdy with flattened and fringed feet. The sandfish is primarily nocturnal and is an insectivore that can detect nearby vibrations cause while moving. 
Photograph curtesy of Cliff Peterson

Arabian Horned Viper (Cerastes gasperettii)
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.
Photograph curtesy of Cliff Peterson

Diadem Snake (Spalerosophis diadema)
The Diadem Snake Spalerosophis diadema is named for its distinctive head markings, consisting of a dark band, which runs across the head between the eyes, behind which several irregular, dark spots may be present. The background colouration of the head and body varies between individuals but is usually greyish, yellowish, sandy-beige or reddish and measures up to 180 centimeters in length. A series of dark brown, olive or reddish blotches runs down the middle of the spine, which fuse into a dark stripe at the neck. In addition, the flanks are marked on either side with a row of smaller dark spots. The head is elongated and slightly triangular, with a rounded snout and large eyes featuring circular pupils. An active predator, it predominantly feeds on rodents, throwing a loop of its body over its prey to immobilise it, before delivering a suffocating bite with its powerful jaws and also produces chemical secretions from an oral gland, which are highly toxic to small mammals, but pose no danger to humans. In addition to rodents, the Diadem Snake is also known to prey upon lizards such as agamas, and occasionally on small birds. When threatened this species is known to inflate and thrash its body, hiss and make rapid strikes. Theses snakes change their activity period according to the season, being diurnal during the winter, autumn and spring, and nocturnal and crepuscular during the summer. They often rest amongst stones, loose rocks, desert plant roots or in rodent burrows during the day to avoid the extreme heat. The Diadem Snake has a large distribution, occurring throughout northern Africa from Mauritania to Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula including Saudi Arabia, and southwest and central Asia, as far as Kazakhstan, Pakistan and India. They are found in arid and semi-arid areas, including stony and sandy desert, and frequently occur in cultivated areas and palm groves surrounding oases. It can be found from lowland regions to elevations of up to 2,000 metres.
Photograph curtesy of Cliff Peterson

Hooded Malpolon (Malpolon moilensis)
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. The Hooded Malpolon can be distinguished from the closely related Montpellier Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus) by the convex rather than concave profile of the forehead, and by the dark spot on the head. They are found in North Africa, from Morocco and Mauritania to Egypt, Sudan and Eritrea, as well as in the Middle East and Arabian Peninsula, as far as Syria, Iraq and Iran. They inhabit stony deserts, desert margins, sandy coastal regions, grassy plains with scrub, oases and cultivated areas, but are usually absent from pure sand deserts and mountains. In some areas, this snake has been found sharing the burrows of Spiny-tailed Lizards (Uromastyx species), and is also capable of creating shelters under stones or logs by shovelling and dragging large amounts of sand using the head and fore-body. They are a fast moving snake and are usually active during the day or at dawn and dusk, but may be more nocturnal during the hotter summer months. The diet includes lizards, small mammals and birds and they generally shed their skin once every 30-50 days, a process which takes about 7-10 days.

Wadi Racer (Platyceps rhodorachis)

The Wadi Racer Platyceps rhodorachis also known as the Braid Snake, Jan’s Cliff Racer or Cliff Racer Coluber rhoderhachis rhoderhachis ranges from Algeria and Libya east to north-west India and north to Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. In Arabia it is found in the United Arab Emirates, Oman & Saudi Arabia where it has been noted from Buryman, Jeddah, Abha, Wadi As-Sirrah, Riyadh, Al-Kharj and Al-Diriyah. It is a highly active snake and one of the most common in the region. They are a long, slender and fast-moving snake, with a narrow head and long, tapering tail. The eyes are large, with round pupils, the snout is slightly pointed and they generally reach about one metre in length with a maximum length of 1.3 metres recorded. The Wadi Racer is highly variable in external morphology, particularly ventral scales, possibly depending on habitat and ranges from uniformly dull tan, to greenish-grey with dark bands. The bands become paler and less distinct towards the tail, which is usually plain. Both patterned and un-patterned individuals have distinctive creamy markings immediately in front of and behind the eyes, and both have pinkish-brown tails. The belly is white, with a pinkish sheen and some individuals have a red line down the back, giving the species its scientific name, ‘rhodos’ meaning red, and ‘rachis’ (or ‘rhachis’) meaning backbone or dorsum. They are often found in wadis with permanent running water, although they can also live in dry desert regions and on mountain sides where it usually occurs in rocky areas. They are active by day or at dawn and dusk and actively hunt by tracking prey by sight, and chasing it with great speed and agility. Their diet includes fish, tadpoles, toads, reptiles, small mammals and birds and although lacking venomous fangs, the saliva of the Wadi Racer may have a mildly toxic effect.

Arabian Gazelle (Gazella arabica)

The Arabian Gazelle Gazella arabica (Lichtenstein, 1827), until recently, was thought to be synonymous with its ecologically and behaviourally very similar sister species the Mountain Gazelle Gazella gazella (Pallas, 1766) which occurs in the Levant. Historically, G. arabica occurred continuously through the Arabian Peninsula, from the Arava Valley in southern Israel, along the Hejaz and Asir Mountains in western Saudi Arabia through Yemen and Oman, and into the UAE. In Saudi Arabia, since the middle of the 20th century, G. arabica numbers have decreased dramatically throughout their range. Small relict populations ofG. arabica occur in Al Khunfah and Harrat al Harrah Protected Areas in the north of Saudi Arabia and on the Tihama coastal plain. On the Farasan Islands a strong population of about 1000 individuals survives, the largest natural population in Saudi Arabia. The Arabian Gazelle is categorized as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. On the mainland the species’ survival depends on a few remnant populations in the western Mountains and coastal plains and on two reintroduced populations. The number of free-ranging gazelles on the Farasan Islands has remained approximately constant since the first counts in 1988, with an overall density of 0.64 per square kilometre and an estimated population of 1,039 on Farasan Kebir in 2009. The populations on two other islands, As Saqid and Zifaf, have not fared as well, possibly because of uncontrolled hunting pressure, competition with domestic stock or poor habitat conditions overall. The population on Qummah Island is extinct. Threats to this subspecies include uncontrolled hunting and uncoordinated development, although they are not major issue at present on the Farasan Islands. Continued protection of this apparently stable population of Arabian Gazelle in Saudi Arabia is imperative to ensure the survival of the species. The coat colour of G. arabica is very variable, but is always some shade of buff. The face-markings and flank stripe are generally well expressed, and the face-markings always show a broad, smudgy black nose spot making the animals fairly easy to identify.

Arabian Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes arabica)
The Arabian Red Fox is a widespread subspecies of the Common Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) and is native to Arabia. It is highly adaptable and more adapted to desert life than its parent species. They can be found in cities, desert areas and mountains. It is brownish red in colour, similar to the Common Red Fox, possibly slightly more sandy in colour, but the Arabian Red Fox’s ears are much larger, and its body much smaller. The large ears have thousands of tiny blood vessels that help the fox maintain its body temperature. Another adaptation to living in the desert is the fur between its toes, to prevent burning its feet. Adults weigh between 2.7 – 4.5 kilograms, are most active at night and are mainly solitary with well-defined home ranges. They eat rodents, birds and fish which they actively hunt during the night, as well as some desert vegetation and even carrion. Fox cubs are born fully furred but blind in the spring, up to six in a litter. They open their eyes after about ten days and take solid food after about 30 days. Arabian Red Fox can live in various environments including cities, towns, desert, mountains and coastal areas.

Ruppell's Fox (Vulpes rueppellii)
Ruppell's Fox (Vulpes rueppellii) is also called the Sand Fox, and is a species of fox that occurs in Dhahran as well as more widely in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They are a smallish fox, much smaller than Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes), and are 40-50 centimeters long and have an average weight of 1.7 kilograms.
Their typical habitat includes sand and stone deserts including open and stony habitats often with sparse vegetation cover and can live in areas that receive little rainfall (<100 mm per year). They have underground dens where they rest from the heat of the day and have their young which normally comprise of two to three kits. These dens are often changed and are dug under trees, rocks or other debris (see second photo of Fox by its den). They eat almost anything, mainly insects, plant roots, small mammals and reptiles as well as eggs. They have few predators but are occasionally eaten by Steppe Buzzard and Pharaoh Eagle Owl. They are a sandy colour and have black patches on the muzzle and a white tipped tail which is long and bushy. They have fur on the pads on thier feet, which helps distribute their weight and allows them to move more easily on sand, as well as preventing the hot sand from burning their. Similar to other desert dwelling foxes, Ruppell's Fox has masive ears to help cool it down.

Desert Hedgehog (Paraechinus aethiopicus)
The Desert Hedgehog is a species found in northern Africa, from Morocco & Mauritania in the west to Egypt in the east as well as the Middle East including Israel, Jordon, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Oman & Yemen. A typical hedgehog in appearance the Desert Hedgehog has a dense, spiny coat, an elongated snout and the ability to curl into a defensive ball when threatened. Its most distinctive feature is the contrasting dark muzzel and broad white, spineless band across the face, which extends onto the flanks. The ears are relatively short and rounded and like other members of the genus, there is a naked patch on the forehead. The legs are long and dark and the underside is softly furred and is usually a mixture of black, brown and white while the spines on the back are a light colour with two dark bands. The overall colouration is quite variable, with some individuals almost totally white, and others completely dark. It is one of the smallest of hedgehogs being 14 - 28 cms in length and weighing 285 - 510 grams. As its common name suggests, the Desert Hedgehog inhabits dry deserts, dry steppe and other arid terrain and often favours areas such as oasis and vegetated wadis where food is more readily available. It has also been recorded in gardens, cultivated areas, open woodland and parks like the areas it is found in Dhahran Camp. It is active at night, is solitary and forages on the ground for a range of insect and other invertibrate prey, as well as occasionally small vertibrates and even species such as scorpions, spiders and snakes. They enter hibernation between January & February, when the temperatures are cooler and may also become less active during the hottest months and when food is scarce. Breeding begins in March after hibernation has ended with the female giving birth up to six young in a burrow or concealed nest after a gestation period of 30 - 40 days. The young are born deaf and blind and with the pines located just under the skin, to prevent damage to the female during birth. The spines emerge within a few hours of birth and the eyes open after 21 days. The young Desert Hedgehog is weaned after about 40 days and a single litter is born each year.

Golden Spiny Mouse (Acomys russatas)
The Golden Spiny Mouse gets its name from the reddish-orange spiny fur that covers it body from head to tail. The fur is coarse and inflexible and is thought to protect it from predation. The mouse also has yellow flanks and a pale underside. It has gray legs with pale feet and black soles. They only live an average of three years in the wild and feed on seeds, desert plants, snails, and insects. Living in desert regions, they obtain water from the plants they eat, mainly grains and grasses and produce concentrated urine in order to conserve water. They can be seen during the day as well as at night but are generally more active in the daytime and live in groups. They are native to Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, occurring up to 2,642 metres above sea level. They live in extremely arid, rocky areas, such as the edge of wadis, the base of jebels and at mountain summits, where they normally reside in rocky crevices, cracks in soil & the burrows of other rodents. They are a small and stocky mouse with a pointed snout, large, erect ears, and a brittle, furless, scaly tail, but nevertheless it is one of the largest of the Spiny Mouse group, with a body up to 25 cm long and a tail of up to 7 cm.
Photograph curtesy of Viv Wilson

Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops aduncur)
The Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) has two main varieties; a smaller, inshore form and a larger, more robust form that lives mainly offshore. They were all previously recognised as a single species the Bottlenose Dolphin T. truncatus, but recently the genus has been split into two species: the pan-tropical and temperate Tursiops truncatus and the endemic Indian Ocean Tursiops aduncus now called the Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin. T. aduncus is the species sighted in Saudi Arabian waters with this species range more limited than the T. trucatus, covering from the east coast of Africa eastwards through the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal to Taiwan and Australia. In the Indian Ocean, T. aduncus is the predominant coastal species while T. truncatus is usually seen offshore. Bottlenose dolphins in general are highly active animals, frequently bow-riding and breaching. They typically show their forehead when surfacing but not the beak (unlike the humpback dolphin). These dolphins have a stocky, torpedo-shaped body, a short beak and pointed flippers. They are usually dark grey on the back with paler grey flanks and have a tall, sickle-shaped dorsal fin is positioned centrally on the back. Bottlenose Dolphins primarily feed by themselves, such as the one we saw in Half Moon Bay, but are known on occasion to form co-operative groups to catch schools of prey. They have a broad diet, with a wide variety of fish and invertebrates being taken. The main threats facing this dolphin in the Arabia Gulf are pollution, habitat degradation and entanglement in fishing nets. Like all dolphins they are also susceptible to human disturbance and noise pollution.

  Blubber Jellyfish (Catostylus mosaicus)

The Blubber Jellyfish (also known as Blue Blubber Jellyfish) Catostylus cf mosaicus (Quoy & Gaimard, 1824) occurs at Half Moon Bay, Dhahran. They occur in shallow and warm coastal area where they are often found in swarms. They have a translucent sub-hemispherical bell up to 35 centimetres across and eight conical arms without clubs or filamanets. They are quite common in the shallow coastal waters of Half Moon Bay, Dhahran and along the coast southwards to Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) at certain times of the year, mainly the spring and summer. During the day the Blubber Jellyfish swims close to the water surface to obtain sunlight which it converts to energy. They come in various colours from translucent greyish white, like the ones at Half Moon Bay, to blue-green or even bright blue and reddish.

Hawksbill Turtle(Eretmochelys)

The Hawksbill Turtle gets its name from its distinct beak like mouth. A hawksbill Turtles head tapers to a point and their lower jaw is V-shaped, adding to the hawk-like resemblance. They are beautiful, medium sized turtles with adults usually about 0.5 – 1 metre long and weigh 45 – 90 kilogrammes. Their carapace is covered in thick overlapping scales that are called scutes which are usually amber colored and richly patterned, with radiating streaks of lighter brown and black. Their diet consists mainly of sponges that live on coral reefs and their sharp, narrow beaks are used to feed on prey found in reef crevices. Hawksbill Turtles are critically endangered because of their beautiful shell. They have been hunted for hundreds of years in huge numbers for the “tortoise shell” that is used in many types of jewelry and trinkets. They are found throughout tropical waters worldwide, and are known to nest on beaches in at least 60 countries including Saudi Arabia. It takes part in long distance migrations, with breeding and feeding grounds in very distant locations. Hawksbill Turtles are mainly associated with the clear, relatively shallow water of coastal reefs, bays, estuaries and lagoons, with nesting generally occurring on remote, isolated sandy beaches. They take decades to mature, first breeding at 20 to 40 years of age when the female will typically lay up to five clutches of around 100 to 140 eggs in a single breeding season. Nesting is much more dispersed than in other marine turtles, but individuals do tend to return to a particular beach season after season. Probably less than one out of 1,000 eggs will survive and reach adulthood.

Pitted Beetle (Adesmia cancellata)
The Pitted Beetle (Adesmia cancellata) is a day active desert beetle (Darkling Beetle) that is common throughout Arabia and very common in Dhahran. It can be found anywhere there is vegetation and it feeds off organic debris from plants. It has many physical problems to contend with in the hot deserts where it lives, including extremes of temperature, low humidity, shortage or absence of free water, and the environmental factors that accentuate these - such as strong winds, sand-storms, lack of shade, rocky and impenetrable soils. Climatic factors are particularly important to smaller animals such as arthropods on account of their relatively enormous surface to volume ratios. Nevertheless, Pitted Beetle is among the most successful animals of the desert, and often the only ones to be seen during the day. They are able to withstand thermal extremes that would rapidly cause the death of most other arthropods including insects. They have remarkably low rates of transpiration and can withstand a considerable reduction in the water content of their tissues. Generally, black beetles are extremely well adapted to live under very hot and dry conditions. The genus Adesmia belongs to the type of "fast runners" which can reach speeds of one meter per second. They use their long legs to lift their body well clear of the hot ground, and increase the clearance as the temperature rises.

Pinstriped Ground Weevil (Ammocieonus aschabadensis)
This species is common in Saudi Arabia around oasis fringes and on saltflats. They posses a rostrum with jaws situated at the extremity which they use to bore into plant tissue. They normally found on the ground near vegetation although they are sometimes also seen in low vegetation. They have a hard cuticle that protects them from enemies and are very well camouflaged and when threatened roll over on their backs and lash out with their feet which are armed with sharp claws. They are mainly seen between April and August.

Arabian Fat-tailed Scorpion (Androctonus crassicauda)
The Arabian fat-tailed scorpion (Androctonus crassicauda) is a medium sized scorpion measuring about 10 centimetres in length and is a formidable nocturnal predator, foraging opportunistically for small insects, spiders and various other prey items that come within easy reach. It has a thick, powerful tail that is equipped with a sting capable of injecting potentially lethal venom and is one of the three most poisonous species of scorpion in the world. The venom, which is injected by the sting, is a powerful neurotoxin, which affects the function of nerve cells and the nervous system and is poisonous to a wide range of animals, including humans and other mammals as well as birds. The body is divided into many segments and has several pairs of modified appendages, including characteristic, claw-like pedipalps which are used in defence and for restraining as well as crushing prey. The pedopalps and tail of the Arabian fat-tailed scorpion have many spiny, sensory hairs, called ‘setae’, while hairs and bristles also cover the soles of the feet. They are usually reddish-brown in colour but can vary between brown & black, with dark, raised keels on several parts of the body giving a rough and grainy appearance. The Arabian fat-tailed scorpion is found in Egypt and throughout the Middle East, including the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, Iraq, Israel and Turkey. It typically inhabits desert environments where it shelters during the day in burrows excavated in the sand; however, it is also often found hiding under wood, loose stones and rubble, in cracks between bricks, and inside derelict houses. During the mating season, the male Arabian fat-tailed scorpion will abandon its burrow in search of a mature female and when it finds one it will grasp her by the pedipalps and leads a complex courtship ritual. They give birth to live young with a littler size of 30 to 46 young, which climb onto the back of the female and remain there for several days.

Caspian Turtle (Mauremys caspica)
The Caspian turtle (Mauremys caspica) is a tan to blackish, medium-sized (to 25 cm), semi-aquatic turtle that occurs in Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran, northwards into Eastern Europe, through Turkey & Bulgaria into the former Yugoslavia. It has a low, oval carapace that is tan to olive or black with yellow to cream-colored patterning on their shells, legs and head. Some stripes extend anteriorly from the neck onto the head of which one on each side passes above the eye and onto the snout where it meets the stripe from the other side. The neck, limbs, and tail are tan gray to olive or black with yellow, cream, or gray stripes or reticulations. Females are generally larger than males although have shorter, thinner tails. There are four sub-species of the Caspian Turtle of which the one occurring in Saudi Arabia is the Siebenrock's Caspian turtle. Siebenrock's Caspian turtle (M. c. siebenrocki), occurs in Iran and Iraq, with relict populations in Saudi Arabia and on Bahrain. This light form with contrasting colors resembles M. c. caspica but has a yellow-to-orange plastron with a small to medium-sized regularly shaped dark blotch on each scute. The soft parts are lighter than in M. c. caspica. They can occur in large numbers in almost any permanent freshwater body within their range where they like to bask in the sun. Breeding usually takes place in early spring and nesting occurs in June and July. A typical clutch is four to six, elongated (20-30 x 35–40 mm), brittle-shelled, white eggs. Hatchlings have round carapaces about 33 mm in length, and are brighter colored than the adults. In temporary waters it is forced to aestivate in the mud in summer. They are carnivorous, feeding on small invertibrates, aquatic insects, amphibians and carrion.