The hooded malpolon is named for its unusual, cobra-like defensive behaviour, in which it lifts the front of the body off the ground, holds it at a 45° angle, dilates the neck into a ‘hood’, and hisses (2)(3)(4). The head of the hooded malpolon is rather elongated, and clearly distinct from the neck, with a convex forehead and a pointed snout, which protrudes over the mouth (2)(3). The body ranges in colour from yellowish to sandy grey or reddish yellow, with irregular and indistinct dark spots on the back and sides, and a cream or white underside, sometimes with reddish speckles (3)(4). 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 (2)(3)(4).
Although sometimes growing to over a metre in length, this snake more usually measures 70 to 90 centimetres (3), with the female being larger than the male, but having a proportionately shorter tail (2). 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 (3).
Also known as
Arabian Montpellier snake, Arabian rear-fanged snake, false cobra, hooded Montpellier snake, Moila snake, Moila’s snake.
The hooded malpolon is usually active during the day or at dawn and dusk, but may be more nocturnal during the summer months (2)(3). The diet is likely to include lizards, small mammals and birds (3)(4). Despite the cobra-like defensive posture, which also gives rise to the alternative name of ‘false cobra’, the hooded malpolon is not related to cobras, and is in fact only very mildly venomous, and not considered dangerous to humans (2)(3)(4)(5). There is little information available on reproduction in this species, but it is likely to be similar to the related M. monspessulanus, which gives birth to around 4 to 20 live young (6).
The hooded malpolon inhabits stony deserts, desert margins, sandy coastal regions, grassy plains with scrub, oases and cultivated areas, although it is apparently absent from pure sand deserts and from mountains (2)(3). In some areas, this snake has been found sharing the burrows of spiny-tailed lizards (Uromastyx species) (4), and is also capable of creating shelters under stones or logs by shovelling and dragging large amounts of sand using the head and forebody (3).
Little is known about the threats facing the hooded malpolon, or about its status throughout its range. However, in areas such as the United Arab Emirates it may be affected by increasing development and urbanisation, and the associated problems of pollution, habitat alteration, and the extraction of ground water, which may affect its desert habitats (7).
There are currently no specific conservation measures known to be in place for the hooded malpolon, and the species has yet to be assessed by the IUCN (8). Much more research will be needed into the biology, abundance, and threats facing this intriguing snake before any appropriate conservation action can be taken.
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