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The Macmahon's viper lives exclusively on sand dunes, where it  buries itself leaving the snout and eyes free of sand.
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Macmahon's or Leaf Nosed Viper
Eristicophis macmahonii

FACT FILE:
Local Name: none (Urdu)
Family: VIPERIDAE
Genus: Eristicophis
Status: Rare
Warning: This snake is deadly poisonous. Less dangerous because of small size, but has caused serious envenomation and, reportedly, has caused deaths

 

Macmahon's Viper (Eristicophis macmahonii)
Photo Credit:
Dr. Muhammad Sharif Khan

 

 

Species and sub species:

Genus Eristicophis is represented in Pakistan by one species:

  • Macmahon's or Leaf Nosed Viper (Eristicophis macmahonii)

Description and Biology:
The average length of this snake is 0.6 meters. Head large, flattened, quite distinct from neck. Snout broad, short. Eye size moderate, pupils vertically elliptical. Nostrils slit-like. Body stout, strongly flattened along side of back, abruptly tapering tail; skin soft and loose. Crown covered by small scales. A narrow whitish line runs from above eye to angle of mouth; scattered dark flecks on top of head. Dorsal base color light tan to khaki, with a series of 20 to 25 small black lateral spots each surrounded partly or completely by group of smaller cream spots. Young snakes have series of about 30 darker brown dorsal crossbands. All markings are more distinct toward the rear. Base of tail has distinct crossbands, tips unmarked, yellowish.

 

General characteristics
Rostral scale much broader than high, crescent-like, deeply concave, surmounted on sides by a butterfly's wing-like, free edged, broad scale;. 1625 circumocular scales; 1516 supralabials, forming cirrated dorsal lip, separated from eye by three rows of scales, about twice as large as those of the ocular ring; 23-29 scales at midbody, arranged in straight regular rings; ventrals 140-145, with lateral keels; anal scale single.

Dorsum light reddish brown to khaki, with a series of small, dark brown lateral spots, each surrounded in its upper half by light dots. A thin light line from eye to angle of mouth. Base of tail with brown crossbands. Ventrum white. Snout-vent length 645-660 mm, tail length 63-72 mm.

 

 


Macmahon's Viper (Eristicophis macmahonii), showing distinct Leaf Nose
Photo Credit:
L. Trutnau

 

Biology:
Active during twilight and at night. Found in fine loose sand where they bury themselves leaving the snout and eyes free of sand. Snake's scales designed for sand burrowing. This snake rapidly sinks in sand by peculiar rocking and peristaltic movements of its body. Sand-sinking is an escape as well defensive behavior of this snake. It also ambushes its prey by lying buried in sand.

Nocturnal, alert and ill tempered snake. In danger, it rolls itself in a pile of coils,
lying above each other, elevating head considerably above ground, neck is thrown in S-shaped coil (in the same manner of some rattlesnakes), eyes are keenly focused on the victim, ready to attack. The snake hisses loudly, and strikes vigorously. Less dangerous because of small size, but has caused serious envenomation and, reportedly, has caused deaths.

Breeding appears to take place from March to May.

 

Diet consists of sand lizards and arthropods. The snake keeps itself buried in sand, with only exposed eyes and nostrils, as soon a prey approaches, it strikes, retaining its hold until the prey is almost dead.

 

Habitat, Distribution and Status:
This snake is morphologically adapted to live in fine loose sand of shifting dunes, where they bury themselves leaving the snout and eyes free of sand. Its habitat is without any mentionable vegetation, except for very sparse growth of stunted bushes and grasses. 

 

This snake is found almost exclusively on sand dunes and at elevations less than 1,200 meters. Restricted to desert basin regions of western Baluchistan, southwestern Afghanistan, and southeastern Iran. Recorded from Seistan in the extreme east in Iran extending into southern Afghanistan south of the Halmand River, and into southwest Baluchistan, between Chagai hills and Siahn Range, east Nushki.

 

Eristicophis macmahonii (O)

Map Credit: Dr. Muhammad Sharif Khan

 

 

Credits:

  • A Guide to The Snakes of Pakistan, Muhammad Sharif Khan, Edition Chimaira Frankfurt am Main 2002

  • Venomous Snakes of the Middle East (Identification Guide), Defence Intelligence Document, U.S Defence Intelligence Agency 

  • Dr. Muhammad Sharif Khan, Herpetological Lab Rabwah, Pakistan

  • Nausherwan Ahmed

 


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