Although I’m super excited to share this venomous viper with you today, I’m also super thankful that I don’t come across them more often on my wanderings. Why? Because “species in the genus Echis are responsible for the greatest proportion of all snake bite fatalities in humans.” (ARKive) Eek!
This Burton’s Carpet Viper (Echis coloratus) was spotted in a wadi in Dahab, moving away from us – or we wouldn’t have been so excited to come across it! But it took its time crossing the narrow path in front of us and then slithering its way up the sunny rocks, giving us plenty of time to observe its beauty.
These vipers have short, stocky bodies and wide heads and can grow to lengths of 75 cm. Their backs are covered with a pattern of pinkish-grayish blotches that have a darker outline. They also have dark gray bands that stretch from the eyes to the corners of their mouths. Their coloration gives them excellent camouflage against the rocks.
Called hayiah or um jenah by the Jebaliya Bedouin, these vipers are fairly common in South Sinai and can be found at elevations up to 2,000 m. They typically live in rocky mountainous regions, on steep slopes, ledges, cliffs, and in rocky wadis. They are nocturnal and crepuscular, active during twilight. But we spotted this one on the move at around 9 in the morning.
Another name for these vipers is the Palestine Saw-Scaled Viper. This name comes from their defensive strategy of rubbing their coils together to produce a strong hissing or sawing sound when approached, especially to deter humans as they don’t want to waste their precious venom on us. Other names include the Arabian Saw-Scaled Viper, Mid-East Saw-Scaled Viper, and the Painted Carpet Viper.
Burton’s Carpet Vipers are unusual among vipers as they lay eggs, whereas their relatives give birth to live young. The vipers feed on small mammals, birds, lizards, and large invertebrates. They have long, hollow fangs that they can reportedly fold back against the roof of their mouths when not in use.
Seeing as this viper and its relatives are considered to be among the world’s most dangerous snakes, I will be sure to pay better attention when I set up camp in the desert!
Aly, D. & Khalil, R. (2011). Wildlife in South Sinai. Cairo.Funded by the E.U. in cooperation with G.O.S.S.
Baha El-Din, Sherif. (2006). A Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Egypt. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press.
Palestine saw-scaled viper (Echis coloratus) on ARKive.org