Awl-headed snake (Lytorhynchus diadema)

Also known as: crowned leafnose snake, diademed sand snake
Synonyms: Catachlaena diadema, Heterodon diadema
GenusLytorhynchus (1)
SizeLength: up to 45 cm (2)

The awl-headed snake is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

A little-known, burrow-dwelling reptile, the most distinctive feature of the awl-headed snake (Lytorhynchus diadema) is its shovel-shaped, projecting snout which is used as an adaptation for digging into sand while seeking out prey (2) (3). With undulations of the elongated, cylindrical body and medium-sized tail, the head, with sunken mouth and enlarged scales, is thrust into the ground and the sand is pushed away. The awl-headed snake varies in colour from pale yellow to yellow-brown or reddish, although a series of dark rectangular blotches on the upperside and smaller spots on the sides of the body are largely retained. There is a chocolate-brown circle or ring on each side of the head behind the eyes, which are usually joined by a brown bar, and a dark stripe runs from each eye to the corner of the mouth. The underside of the body is a uniform white or cream (2). 

The awl-headed snake has a large range across North Africa and the Middle East, stretching from Mauritania in the west to the United Arab Emirates, Iraq and south-west Iran in the east (4).

The awl-headed snake inhabits sand or stony areas around the margins of deserts, in coastal sand dunes, and on high grassy plateaus up to altitudes of around 2,000 metres (2).

Very little is known about the biology of this snake, but it is thought to be largely nocturnal or crepuscular during the summer, residing in burrows during the day (2) (5). In the colder months of spring and autumn, it is thought to become more active during the day. It mainly eats small lizards that have burrowed into loose sand, but young rodents and large insects may also be consumed. Like most other colubrid snakes, those belonging to the Colubridae family, it is probably an egg-laying species (6). It is known to live for up to six years in captivity (2).

Although the awl-headed snake is not currently considered to be globally threatened, it may face a number of localised threats in parts of its range. For example. this species is collected for the pet trade in Egypt, and is also under threat from overgrazing and quarrying (1).

The awl-headed snake has not been the target of any known conservation measures. This species occurs in a number of protected areas throughout its range (1).

To find out more about the conservation of reptiles, see:

For further information on conservation in the United Arab Emirates, see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2013)
  2. Schleich, H.H., Kästle, W. and Kabisch, K. (1996) Amphibians and Reptiles of North Africa: Biology, Systematics, Field Guide. Koeltz Scientific Books, Koenigstein, Germany.
  3. Hellyer, P. and Aspinall, S. (2005) The Emirates: A Natural History. Trident Press Limited, London.
  4. The Reptile Database (September, 2010)
  5. Firouz, E. (2005) The Complete Fauna of Iran. I. B. Tauris Publishers, London.
  6. Halliday, T. and Adler, K. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.