Palestine saw-scaled viper (Echis coloratus)

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Close up of Palestine saw-scaled viper

Top facts

  • The Palestine saw-scaled viper is named after its defensive display, in which the scales are rubbed together to produce a sawing sound.
  • The Palestine saw-scaled viper’s fangs may be replaced many times throughout its life.
  • A venomous species, the Palestine saw-scaled viper and its close relatives are considered to be among the world’s most dangerous snakes.
  • The Palestine saw-scaled viper is unusual among vipers in laying eggs rather than giving birth to live young.
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Palestine saw-scaled viper fact file

Palestine saw-scaled viper description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassReptilia
OrderSquamata
FamilyViperidae
GenusEchis (1)

Like other vipers, the Palestine saw-scaled viper (Echis coloratus) is a venomous snake with a relatively short, stocky body, a wide head, vertical pupils and heavily keeled scales (3) (4) (5). It receives its common name from its defensive display, in which the scales are rubbed together by drawing opposing coils of the body against each other, producing a loud rasping or sawing sound (2) (3) (5) (6).

The Palestine saw-scaled viper is usually grey, brown or brownish-red, with a lighter underside and with a pattern of large, light pinkish or greyish blotches or cross-bands along the back (2) (4) (7). The blotches may have a darker outline, and may contain shades of light grey or blue (7). The upper side of the Palestine saw-scaled viper’s head is usually brown, with a lighter ‘X’ shaped marking and a darker grey streak that runs from the corner of the mouth to the eye (4) (7).

Two subspecies of Palestine saw-scaled viper have been described: Echis coloratus coloratus and Echis coloratus terraesanctae (1) (4) (7). E. c. terraesanctae differs from E. c. coloratus in its colour, patterning, number of scales, and relatively larger eyes (7). The Palestine saw-scaled viper is very similar in appearance to the recently described Oman saw-scaled viper (Echis omanensis) (1) (2) (8). It also resembles the widespread saw-scaled viper (Echis carinatus), but is slightly stockier and more colourful (6).

Also known as
Arabian saw-scaled viper, Burton’s carpet viper, Mid-East saw-scaled viper, painted carpet viper, painted saw-scaled viper.
Synonyms
Echis colorata, Echis froenata, Echis froenatus.
Size
Length: up to 75 cm (2)
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Palestine saw-scaled viper biology

Like other vipers, the Palestine saw-scaled viper has relatively long, hollow fangs that can be folded against the roof of the mouth when not in use (5). The fangs of vipers are generally longer than those of other snakes, allowing venom to be injected deeper into their prey. The fangs may be replaced at numerous times throughout the snake’s life as new fangs develop at the back of the mouth and replace old ones that are shed (11).

Species in the genus Echis are responsible for the greatest proportion of all snake bite fatalities in humans. As these vipers often live in close proximity to humans and will bite with little provocation, they are considered to be among the world’s most dangerous snakes (5) (11).

The Palestine saw-scaled viper is active either at night or at dawn and dusk (4) (6). Like other vipers, it is likely to hunt its prey using a sit-and-wait technique, aided by camouflaging body markings that conceal the snake from its prey (11).

The Palestine saw-scaled viper has been reported to feed on small mammals, frogs, toads, birds, lizards and large invertebrates (2) (6) (8). In some areas, it has a habit of perching on bushes or trees close to water, with the head pointed upwards, suggesting that it may hunt birds coming in to rest or drink (8). Once a viper has struck its prey, it usually withdraws immediately (12) and then follows its prey using chemical cues until its venom has immobilised the victim (11).

The majority of viper species give birth to live young (5) (9). However, the Palestine saw-scaled viper is somewhat unusual in laying eggs (1) (2), usually producing six to ten eggs per clutch (2).

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Palestine saw-scaled viper range

The Palestine saw-scaled viper occurs across Egypt, the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula, including Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, northern Oman and the United Arab Emirates (1) (2) (7). In Egypt, it occurs east of the River Nile (1) (7).

The subspecies E. c. terraesanctae is restricted to Israel and Jordan (1) (7).

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Palestine saw-scaled viper habitat

Like many viper species (9) (10), the Palestine saw-scaled viper inhabits rocky, arid areas (2) (7). It avoids sandy habitats, preferring rocky or hard terrain (8), and is often found near sources of water (4).

The Palestine saw-scaled viper has been recorded at elevations of up to 2,000 metres in the southern Sinai Peninsula (4).

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Palestine saw-scaled viper status

The Palestine saw-scaled viper has yet to be classified by the IUCN.

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Palestine saw-scaled viper threats

The Palestine saw-scaled viper is not currently known to be facing any major threats.

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Palestine saw-scaled viper conservation

Although its global conservation status has not yet been assessed, the Palestine saw-scaled viper has been classified as Least Concern (LC) in the Mediterranean region according to IUCN criteria (13).

There are not known to be any specific conservation measures currently in place for this venomous snake.

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Find out more

Find out more about the Palestine saw-scaled viper and other reptiles:

More information on reptile conservation:

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Authentication

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:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

This species information was authored as part of the ARKive and Universities Scheme.
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Glossary

Genus
A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
Invertebrates
Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones) and echinoderms.
Keel
A projecting ridge along a flat or curved surface, particularly down the middle.
Subspecies
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
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References

  1. The Reptile Database (June, 2012)
    http://reptile-database.reptarium.cz/search.php
  2. O’Shea, M. (2008) Venomous Snakes of the World. New Holland Publishers, London.
  3. Cloudsley-Thompson, J.L. (1999) The Diversity of Amphibians and Reptiles: An Introduction. Springer-Verlag, Berlin and Heidelberg.
  4. Baha El Din, S. (2006) A Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Egypt. American University in Cairo Press, Cairo.
  5. Halliday, T. and Adler, K. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  6. Vine, P. (1996) Natural Emirates: Wildlife and Environment of the United Arab Emirates. Trident Press, London.
  7. Babocsay, G. (2003) Geographic variation in Echis coloratus (Viperidae, Ophidia) in the Levant with the description of a new subspecies. Zoology in the Middle East, 29: 13-32.
  8. 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(4): 503-514.
  9. Bellairs, A.A. and Attridge, J. (1975) Reptiles. Hutchinson University Library, London.
  10. Zug, G.R., Vitt, L.J. and Caldwell, J.P. (2001) Herpetology: An Introductory Biology of Amphibians and Reptiles. Second Edition. Academic Press, San Diego, California.
  11. Stafford, P. (2000) Snakes. The Natural History Museum, London.
  12. Bellairs, A.A. (1969) The Life of Reptiles. Volume 1. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London.
  13. Cox, N., Chanson, J. and Stuart, S. (2006) The Status and Distribution of Reptiles and Amphibians of the Mediterranean Basin. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. Available at:
    http://data.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/2006-027.pdf
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Close up of Palestine saw-scaled viper  
Close up of Palestine saw-scaled viper

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