Snakes from the Abu Dhabi Region

Snakes from the Abu Dhabi Region

By J.N.B. Brown

Between mid-October and the end of November 1988, approximately 1 700 dead snakes were delivered to the Old Fort by the Municipality. It was stated that they had been killed in two large residential areas at Rawda al Reef and at Ajban. Rawda al Reef is reported to have a boundary fence 35km long and Ajban a boundary of 10km, but these measurements are unsubstantiated at present.

One collection of some 500 snakes was preserved in petrol, mainly in plastic containers. Many of these containers were disintegrating and leaking, so for safety reasons were emptied and placed on a rubbish dump along the Suweihan Road. A bounty of up to Dh300 per snake, depending upon size, was reportedly paid. It is, therefore, possible that these persevered specimens were collected outside the designated areas. For the purpose of this brief study they have been ignored.

Of the main collection of nearly 1 200 snakes, six different species were subsequently identified. Two (Cerastes cerastes and Echis carinatus) belong to the viper family and are potentially dangerous. Only two specimens of C. cerastes had visible horns over the eyes. Three species (Malpolon miolensis, Psammophis schokari and Lytorhynchus disdema), belonging to the Colubridae family, are rear-fanged snakes. These have poison injection teeth at the back of their mouths to kill small prey. They are relatively harmless to humans because of the difficulty of injecting poison with rear-facing teeth. The remaining species was a member of the Boidae family (Eryx jayakari), which is not poisonous but kills its prey by constriction.

There was one specimen of the Amphisbaenidae family (Diplometopon zarudnyii), which is a snake-like legless lizard. It is pinkish in color, completely harmless and rarely seen more than 20 cm long.

It is not uncommon to encounter snakes sunbathing as the day warms up. Being cold-blooded creatures, they need to maintain temperatures by absorbing heat from their surroundings. However, when in search of food, they emerge at dusk or during the hours of darkness. It is then that jerboas, gerbils and numerous lizards and beetles are most active.

Records are not available as to when any of the specimens were actually killed. Nearly all the snakes had been damaged by clubbing with heavy sticks or rocks, making them almost useless for scientific study. It was noted that many of the longer, least poisonous snakes were more badly damaged than the shorter poisonous ones. This could have been because they move very fast, or because they were perceived to be more dangerous. However, a few have been retained in the deep freezer for skinning. About 100 of the better specimens were taken to Dr. Reza Khan at Al Ain Zoo for scale counts and several were mummified with only reasonable success.

A total of 1 189 snakes were identified and measured (see Table I). The measurements given are of the largest snake found in each species and represents total length (including tail) and the tail length from the vent.

One P. scholari was cannibalistic, having a younger P. scholari snake lying in tight convolutions in its stomach. The adult was 108 cm long (including a tail 37.5 cm long) and the young snake 63 cm long. Reproduction in this species is oviparous (egg-laying).

Some food animals were extracted from the digestive systems of all species. The results are shown in Table 2.

Table 1 Length Measurements

    Maximum length          
% of total No. of snakes Latin English total cm total in tail cm total in
21.53 256 Cerastes cerastes Sand Viper 76 30 7.5 3.0
35.74 425 Echis carinatus Saw-scaled Viper 57 22 5.0 2.0
15.39 183 Malpolon miolensis Arabian rear-fanged Snake 107 42 20.0 8.0
8.42 100 Psammophis schokari Hissing Sand Snake 119 47 39.5 16.0
15.39 183 Lytorhynchus diadema Leaf-nose Snake 51 20 6.75 2.75
3.53 42 Eryx jayakari Sand Boa 46.5 18.5 3.0 1.25

Table 2 Food

C. cerastes jerboa, gerbil, unidentified bird, Stenodactylus sp. and Bunopus turberculatus
E. Carinatus lacertid (17 cm long in a 28 cm snake), jerboa, gerbil
M. miolensis jerboa, gerbil (five toes), Sand Boa, B. tuberculatus
P. Schokari lacertid (A. schmidti?)
L. diadema Stenodactylus sp
E. jayakari jerboa, gerbil (26 cm snout to tail tip and 3 cm across in a 38 cm snake)


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