Schokari sand racer (Psammophis schokari)

Also known as: Forskal sand snake
GenusPsammophis (1)
SizeLength: 150 cm (2)

This species has yet to be assessed by the IUCN.

One of the fastest snakes in the Middle East (3), the Schokari sand racer has a thin body with variable colouration and patterning and an elongated head, featuring large golden-brown eyes with rounded pupils (2). Three main colour forms are recognised: a striped form, which has four dark, longitudinal stripes running over the upperparts; a non-striped form, which is either unmarked or lightly dotted; and a rear-striped from, with dark, longitudinal stripes only on the posterior part of the body, which merge towards the anterior (4). The background colouration is generally olive, tan or beige and there are also often dark stripes running from the snout, past the eyes, to the rear of the head (5). This variation in colouration and markings is believed to be an adaptation to the particular environment that individual specimens occupy (4). The jaws of this species bear two non-venomous, fang-like teeth in the upper jaw, at level of front-edge of the eye, and two strongly enlarged, grooved, venomous fangs, at the level of the rear edge of the eye (2).

A wide ranging species (2), theSchokari sand racer can be found throughout Northern Africa, as far south as Chad, Somalia and Ethiopia. Its range also extends throughout the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East to Central Asia, occurring as far north as Turkmenistan and as far east as Pakistan and north-west India (6).

TheSchokari sand racer occurs in well-vegetated areas, including cultivated areas, among trees and shrubs, as well as in areas of sand and gravel where low shrubs and grasses occur. It can be found from sea-level to high-altitude mountainous regions (2).

An agile and active daytime predator, when chasing prey the Schokari sand racer is capable of reaching speeds of up to 16 kilometres per hour (3), and can even climb trees in order to reach adult birds and nestlings (2). Prey includes lizards, small birds, rodents and other snakes, which are captured with a swift bite followed by a chewing motion to deliver the snake’s venom. Once immobilised, the prey is swallowed head first. Despite being a venomous species, the Schokari sand racer is not dangerous to humans, and in response to threats its main from of defence is to use its speed to escape (2) (7).

The Schokari sand racer mates during the rainy season, between April and June. The female lays a small clutch, usually of six to ten eggs. The males reach sexual maturity at slightly a smaller size than the female, at snout-vent lengths of around 42 centimetres and 45 centimetres, respectively (7).

A generally common species, there are no known significant threats to the Schokari sand racer at present (6).

The Schokari sand racer is protected in parts of its range by virtue of its presence within protected areas, such as the Badkhyz and Kopet Dagh reservations in Turkmenistan (6). Owing to the fact that this species preys on a variety of agricultural pests, it is beneficial to cultivation, and its presence should be highly valued (8).

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  1. Species 2000 ITIS Catalogue of Life (August, 2009)
  2. Hellyer, P. and Aspinall, S. (2005) The Emirates: A Natural History. Trident Press Limited, London.
  3. Firouz, E. (2005) The Complete Fauna of Iran. I.B.Tauris, London.
  4. Kark, S., Warburg, I. and Werner, Y.L. (1997) Polymorphism in the snake Psammophis schokari on both sides of the desert edge in Israel and Sinai. Journal of Arid Environments, 37: 513 - 527.
  5. Schleich, H.H., Kästle, W. and Kabisch, K. (1996) Amphibians and Reptiles of North Africa: Biology, Systematics, Field Guide. Koeltz Scientific Books, Koenigstein, Germany.
  6. Ananjeva, N.B., Orlov, N.L., Khalikov, R.G., Darevsky, I.S. and Barabanov, A. (2006) The Reptiles of Northern Eurasia: Taxonomic Diversity, Distribution, Conservation Status. Pensoft Publishers, Sofia, Bulgaria.
  7. Cottone, A.M. and Bauer, A.M. (2009) Sexual size dimorphism, diet, and reproductive biology of the Afro-Asian Sand Snake, Psammophis schokari (Psammophiidae). Amphibia-Reptilia, 30: 331 - 340.
  8. UAE Interact (August, 2009)