False smooth snake (Macroprotodon cucullatus)

Also known as: hooded snake
  
Spanish: culebra de cogulla
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassReptilia
OrderSquamata
FamilyColubridae
GenusMacroprotodon (1)
SizeLength: up to 44.7 cm (2)

The false smooth snake is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The false smooth (Macroprotodon cucullatus) is named for its similarity in outer appearance to the southern smooth snake (Coronella girondica) (3). Species in the genus Macroprotodon are generally small and secretive, resulting in little being known on their biology (4).

The false smooth snake is a small to medium-sized, slender snake, with seven to eight scales running along its upper jaw. The colour of this species is variable, but is usually olive-brown with a pattern of brownish blotches separated with lighter patches. Its head is much darker than the rest of the body, with the colour extending to the neck and forming a ‘collar’. The head and neck markings show great variability, with some snakes having fragmented head colouration, others appearing to have no collar at all, and up to 40 percent of false smooth snakes having the top of the head entirely black (2).

The false smooth snake has a copper coloured iris, and the face is marked with a diagonal black line running from the eye down to the mouth. The female tends to be slightly bigger than the male, and the number of scales on the belly differs between the sexes (5) (6).

The false smooth snake is found mainly in northern Africa, occurring in Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Israel. Its occurrence on the islands of Lampedusa, Mallorca and Menorca is potentially due to introduced individuals (1). In some instances it has been found in southwest Asia (7).

The false smooth snake inhabits a number of different habitats including both deciduous and evergreen woodland, cultivated land, meadows and rocky areas such as building ruins and stone walls (1). Almost all specimens have been observed within 100 kilometres of the coast (2).

This species appears to live under stones and in rock crevices (8).

Little is known about the biology of the false smooth snake, though it is thought to be mainly nocturnal, emerging at twilight and remaining active throughout the night (4). During the night, this species hunts its prey with its diet consisting mainly of small lizards, including sand lizards and geckos (5) (9). It has been suggested that these small lizards are preyed upon because their daily cycles match those of the false smooth snake, rather than because of their nutritional value. The false smooth snake is a poisonous species, using its fangs to inject poison into the prey (10).

The false smooth snake is reported to have small clutch sizes, with the female laying two to six eggs. This species breeds every two years (1) (11). The reproductive behaviour of this secretive snake is still largely unknown. However, aggression between captive males was observed to begin in mid-April, suggesting this could be the beginning of the breeding season (12).

Although the false smooth snake does not appear to be globally threatened, it is declining in some areas due to the intensification of agriculture and habitat degradation (1). The population in Egypt appears to be declining, due to the development of tourism, overgrazing, quarrying, and the collection of this species for the pet trade (1) (2). On the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa and the Balearic Islands, this species is now rare due to deforestation and heavy tourism (1) (8).

It has been recommended that protective legislation for the false smooth snake should be put in place in Egypt, where numbers are decreasing. This species occurs in a few protected areas but requires further research in order to better understand its conservation requirements (1).

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  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Baha El Din, S. (2006) A guide to the reptiles and amphibians of Egypt. The American University in Cairo Press, Cairo and New York
  3. Phelps, T. (1984) Poisonous Snakes. Littlehampton Book Services Ltd., England
  4. Carranza, S., Arnold, E.N., Wade, E., and  Fahd, S. (2004) Phylogeography of the false smooth snakes Macroprotodon (Serpentes, Colubridae): mitochondrial DNA sequences show European populations recently arrived From Northwest Africa. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 33: 523-532.
  5. de Almeida, N.F., and de Ameida, F.F. (1986) On the occurancing and feeding habits of the false smooth snake Macroprotodon cucullatus (Geoffroy, 1827) in Portugal (Serpentes: Colubirdae). Amphibia-Reptilia, 7: 75-81.
  6. Feriche, M., Pleguezelos, J.M., and Cerro, A. (1993) Sexual dimorphism and sexing of Mediterranean colubrids based on external characteristics. Journal of Herpetology, 27:  357-362.
  7. Marx, H. (1968) Checklist of the Reptiles and Amphibians of Egypt (Special Publication). United States Naval Medical Research Unit Number Three, Cairo
  8. Corti, C., and Luiselli, L. (2000) Macroprotodon cucullatus on Lampedusa island (Mediterranean Sea): Notes on its natural history, morphometrics, and conservation. Amphibia-Reptilia, 22: 129-134.
  9. Schleich, H.H., Kästle, W., and Kabisch, K. (1996) Amphibians and reptiles of North Africa. Koeltz Scientific Publishers, Germany
  10. Burton, J.A. (1991) Book of Snakes. Crescent Books, Birmingham
  11. Filipe, E., and Luiselli, L. (2000) Status of the Italian snake fauna and assessment of conservation threats. Biological Conservation, 93: 219-225.
  12. Capula, M., and Luiselli, L. (1997) A tentative review of sexual behaviour and alternative reproductive strategies of the Italian colubrid snakes. Herpetozoa, 10: 107-119.