Oman saw-scaled viper (Echis omanensis)

Synonyms: Echis colorata, Echis froenatus
GenusEchis (1)
SizeLength: up to 75 cm (2)

The Oman saw-scaled viper has been classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Only recently recognised as a distinct species, variations in the scales on the head led to the Oman saw-scaled viper (Echis omanensis) being split from the wider ranging Palestine saw-scaled viper (Echis coloratus) (3). The head is broad, with large eyes featuring vertical-slit pupils, and jaws that bear long, hinged, hollow fangs capable of administering a highly toxic venom (2). The overall colouration is grey or grey-brown, with paler blotches on the upper surface, running down the spine. Each blotch is surrounded by a dark border, which may extend laterally over the flanks, merging with a series of dark bands that run along each side. The underside is yellowish-white or greyish-white, and marked with indistinct dots in some individuals (3).

The Oman saw-scaled viper’s range is restricted to the United Arab Emirates and northern Oman (2) (3), where it occurs from sea-level to elevations of 1,000 metres (3).

The Oman saw-scaled viper is typically found in arid mountains and hillsides with rocky terrain, often in and around wadis and around pools of water (2) (3)

Active in the early morning and afternoon, and possibly throughout the night, the Oman saw-scaled viper will commonly take up a position around a pool of water in order to ambush prey, such as toads (2) (3). Prey is taken by means of a lightning-fast strike, in which the venom is administered, after which the prey is released to die from its effects, before being swallowed whole (2). In addition, to toads, this species is likely to feed on a range of other vertebrates and invertebrates, including birds and possibly also wadi fish that have become stranded in drying pools (2) (3). Like other saw-scaled vipers, when threatened this species will rub opposing coils of its body together, which produces a characteristic sawing sound due to the scales’ keeled surfaces. This is thought to help conserve valuable moisture that would be lost by hissing (4). Little is known about the Oman saw-scaled viper’s reproduction, although it is likely to be similar to that of its close relative, the Palestine saw-scaled viper. Therefore, rather than producing live young like most vipers, this species probably lays a small clutch of eggs (4).

As a recently recognised species (3), there is currently very little information concerning any potential threats faced by the Oman saw-scaled viper. Nevertheless, as it has a restricted range (3), it is possible that its population may be relatively small.

There are no known conservation measures in place for the Oman saw-scaled viper, although it may occur within some of the protected areas found within its range (5).

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  1. IUCN Red List (February, 2013)
  2. Hellyer, P. and Aspinall, S. (2005) The Emirates: A Natural History. Trident Press Limited, London.
  3. Babocsay, G. (2004) A new species of saw-scaled viper of the Echis coloratus complex (Ophidia: Viperidae) from Oman, Eastern Arabia. Systematics and Biodiversity, 1: 503 - 514.
  4. O'Shea, M. (2008) Venomous Snakes of the World. New Holland Publishers, London.
  5. World Database On Protected Areas (August, 2009)