Wadi racer (Platyceps rhodorachis)

Also known as: braid snake, cliff racer, Jan’s cliff racer, Jan’s desert racer, Jan’s whip snake
Synonyms: Coluber rhodorachis, Haemorrhois rhodorhachis, Zamenis ladacensis, Zamenis rhodorachis, Zamenis rhodorhachis, Zamenis ventrimaculatus, Zamenis ventromaculatus
GenusPlatyceps (1)
SizeLength: up to 130 cm (2) (3)

The wadi racer has yet to be assessed by the IUCN.

The wadi racer (Platyceps rhodorachis) is a long, slender and fast-moving snake, with a narrow head and long, tapering tail. The eyes are large, with round pupils, and the snout is slightly pointed (2) (3) (4) (5). Although individuals up to 130 centimetres have been recorded, most are under a metre in length (3) (4). 

The appearance of the wadi racer is highly variable, possibly depending on habitat (1) (2) (4), and ranges from uniformly dull tan, to greenish-grey with dark bands. The bands become paler and less distinct towards the tail, which is usually plain. Both patterned and unpatterned individuals have distinctive creamy markings immediately in front of and behind the eyes, and both have pinkish-brown tails (2) (4).

The belly is white, with an iridescent pinkish sheen (4). Some individuals have a red line down the back, giving the species its scientific name, ‘rhodos’ meaning red, and ‘rachis’ (or ‘rhachis’) meaning backbone or dorsum (3).

Similar to the Schokari sand racer (Psammophis schokari) in appearance, the wadi racer can be distinguished by the lack of a black and white streaked face mask (2). A number of subspecies are recognised (1) (3).

The wadi racer is found in North Africa from Algeria to Somalia, the Arabian Peninsula, and in southwest Asia, as far east as India and Pakistan, and north to southern Kazakhstan (1) (3) (4).

In the United Arab Emirates, the wadi racer is usually found in wadis with permanent running water, although it can also live in dry desert regions and on mountain sides (2) (4).

It usually occurs in rocky areas, but can also be found in more sandy habitats (2). No information is available on the habitat preferences of this species in other parts of its range.

Active by day or at dawn and dusk, the wadi racer is an active hunter, using its large eyes to track prey by sight, and chasing it with great speed and agility (2) (4) (5). The wadi racer’s diet includes fish, tadpoles and toads, and it does not hesitate to enter water to chase its prey (2) (4). Other reptiles, small mammals and birds may also be taken (2). Although lacking venomous fangs, the saliva of the wadi racer may have a mildly toxic effect (6).

Little other information is available on the biology or life history of the wadi racer. Like most other members of the Colubridae, it is likely to lay eggs (5).

There is little information available on the threats facing the wadi racer. However, in areas such as the United Arab Emirates it may be affected by increasing urbanisation and development, with the associated problems of pollution, habitat alteration, and in particular the extraction of ground water, which may affect the wadis in which it lives (7).

Increasing levels of tourism may also be a threat, with tourists often camping around and swimming in the wadis (7). However, little is currently known about the status of the wadi racer in this or other parts of its range.

There are no specific conservation measures currently in place for the wadi racer. The species has yet to be assessed by the IUCN (8), and more research is needed to address the lack of information on its biology and populations, and on the threats it faces, before any appropriate conservation action can be taken.

To find out more about the wadi racer see:

To find out more about reptile conservation see:

Authenticated (03/09/11) by Olivier S.G. Pauwels, Research Associate at the Royal Belgian Institute for Natural Sciences, Brussels, Belgium.

  1. Reptiles Database - Platyceps rhodorachis (August, 2011)
  2. Vine, P. (1996) Natural Emirates: Wildlife and Environment of the United Arab Emirates. Trident Press, London.
  3. Schleich, H.H., Kästle, W. and Kabisch, K. (1995) Amphibians and Reptiles of North Africa. Koeltz Scientific Books, Koenigstein, Germany.
  4. Hellyer, P. and Aspinall, S. (2005) The Emirates: A Natural History. Trident Press Limited, London.
  5. Halliday, T. and Adler, K. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  6. Perry, G. (1988) Mild toxic effects resulting from the bites of Jan’s desert racer, Coluber rhodorachis, and Moila’s snake, Malpolon moilensis (Ophidia: Colubridae). Toxicon, 26(6): 523 - 524.
  7. WWF: Major environmental threats in the UAE (August, 2009)
  8. IUCN Red List (August, 2009)