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sand viper

sand viper facts

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"Sand snakes burrow into the sand and attack directly from their hiding places."

Widespread across the deserts of North Africa, the sand viper is a versatile and deadly hunter that can switch between active hunting and ambush hunting as the environment demands. The closest geographic relative of the horned viper, the sand viper shares the appearance, tactics, and deadly venom of its more strikingly designed cousin. Although it can only be found in desert environments, the species' versatility and lethality have allowed it to spread from North Africa to Sudan to Israel. In keeping with this widespread distribution, sand vipers are also often referred to as common sand vipers or Saharan vipers.

3 Unbelievable Facts About Sand Snakes!

  • Sand vipers actually give birth to live young instead of laying eggs. They can give birth to up to eight young at a time, and they are active and venomous by nature.
  • Females of this species can also be identified at a glance by the fact that they have a black tail and are somewhat larger than males.
  • Although they operate primarily as ambush predators, sand vipers have been known to employ aggressive hunting methods before leading to a bruising period – a state similar to hibernation but adapted to reptiles. This allows them to store extra nutrients and fat for winter.

where to find sand vipers

The Saharan Viper is accurately named because it can be found throughout the Sahara Desert in North Africa, but that's not the only place where these reptiles can be found. The habitat of these reptiles continues eastwards as far as the Suez Canal and then further into the states of the Arabian Peninsula. All in all, it turns out that the sand viper has an impressive geographic range of habitat. This habitat range includes all of the northernmost states of North Africa: Mauritania, Western Sahara, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Sudan. In the east, it extends to a small part of Israel.

But it's worth noting that the Saharan viper's habitat only extends as far as the desert. Everything from their coloration to their physiology to their hunting habits is uniquely suited to the desert habitat. But it also means that these snakes have a hard time surviving anywhere other than arid deserts. The facts show why this is so common with snakes.

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As cold-blooded reptiles, they thrive in hot environments, and they are able to survive on just regular feeding and very little hydration. Sand is especially useful against Saharan vipers – as these snakes can hide beneath the sand surface and go unnoticed due to their color, and their sideways movement patterns allow them to effectively navigate the slippery desert sand walk through.

scientific name

The sand viper, whose scientific name is Cerastes viperus , does a great job of introducing the basics of the species to the average herpetologist. Cerastes refers to a snake in ancient Greek mythology that, due to its lack of a spine, was extremely fast and extremely agile. While this is certainly in keeping with the species' ambush hunting style and side-bending movements, Cerastus is also a reference to the genus Snake. All four members of the genus are classified as venomous snakes, and most of them cannot be distinguished by ordinary observers due to their similarities and lack of detailed scientific analysis.



The most popular and unique of its genus of Saharan vipers is the horned viper. Except for the horned ridge on the head, the snake resembles a sand viper in appearance, and their habits are very similar except that the sand vipers give birth to young.

Population and Conservation Status

The relatively wide geographic range of the common sand viper and the ability of the genus Ceratops to maintain four distinct species throughout its range bodes well for continued sand viper conservation. The snake is currently listed as a species of least concern by the IUCN, meaning its population is stable at just over 10,000 individuals. Barring drastic changes in climate or habitat, this snake should be safe for the foreseeable future.

appearance and description

With creatures honed over generations to become excellent ambush predators, the common sand snake's color and size were designed to blend in with the desert, where they hunt prey – but the three similar snake species also make identification more of a challenge Sex calls North Africa and the Sinai Peninsula home. The common sand viper can be distinguished from the closely related horned viper due to the lack of protrusions on its head, but is otherwise difficult to identify. Both are slender snakes, up to about a foot and a half in size, and both have a tan base and slightly darker markings, which help them more easily conceal themselves from prey.

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picture

The sand viper's color helps it blend in with the habitat in which it preys.

© reptiles4all/Shutterstock.com

Venoms: How Dangerous Are They?

The sand viper's venomous bite plays a crucial role in its efficacy as a predator. As some of the smaller snakes in their habitat, venom can prolong their lifespan by minimizing the risk of being attacked by prey. Sandvipers simply use their bite to inject venom into their prey and then let them loose as quickly as possible. The venom then does all the work so that the snake can wait to eat its prey until it is dead or at least incapacitated.

While the venom is strong enough to kill prey such as mice, birds and amphibians, the common sand snake's bite is not particularly dangerous to humans. Since the venom is relatively mild, it is unlikely to die from a sand snake bite.

Behavior and Humans

Sand vipers are elusive wild animals—while they're relatively common across Africa and the Middle East, they typically have very little direct interaction with humans. Sand vipers are not kept as pets, although they are sometimes considered a nuisance in the areas where they are found. While not fatal, the venom they can inject can cause cellular damage and be quite painful.

Sand snakes do not consider humans as prey, and are just as likely to bite a human dry as they are to inject them with venom. In either case, they'd generally prefer to avoid humans rather than confront them — but Saharan vipers don't hesitate to strike when they feel threatened.

similar animal

  • horned viper
  • spider-tailed viper
  • eyelash snake

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Sand Viper FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What does a Sand Viper look like?

The Saharan viper is a stocky, about 18-inch long light tan snake with dark brown tick markings. As a result, these spiders can be difficult to identify when they are buried in the sand waiting for their prey.

Where do sand vipers live?

Saharan vipers thrive in the desert, and they have managed to develop a habitat that spans all of North Africa and much of the Sinai Peninsula. But once you start moving away from the desert, the Sahara Viper disappears.

Are sand vipers poisonous?

Sand vipers use an anticoagulant venom that interferes with the bleeding process as well as forces swelling and minor necrosis. This quickly bodes well for sand viper prey, although it's rare for a Saharan viper's venom to actually shorten a human's lifespan.

How fast is the Sandviper?

Sand snakes move by sidewinding – a unique technique that minimizes their contact with the ground to prevent overheating and avoid slipping on loose sand. While the sand viper's land speed is not recorded, the American rattlesnake uses a similar method of locomotion and can reach speeds approaching 20 miles per hour.

Where did the sand viper come from?

Sand vipers are one of four species of snakes in the genus Horned Vipers. Along with their brothers, they can be found in desert environments throughout North Africa and the Middle East.

How do sand vipers hunt?

Sand snakes are ambush predators, hiding under the sand and waiting for their prey to approach. Once within range, they bite with venom and retreat, waiting for their prey to die of the toxin.

Are sand vipers aggressive?

Although sand vipers generally avoid humans, they are aggressive carnivores with a strong bite. Humans are not part of their diet, but exposure should be avoided as much as possible.

What do sand vipers eat?

Sand vipers are opportunistic predators, and their venom allows them to target prey that may be too large. Their diet includes a variety of rodents, geckos, and reptiles. The Anderson's short-dye gecko is a particularly common prey item for sand vipers.

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source
  1. Animal Diversity website, available here: https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Cerastes_gasperetti/classification/#Cerastes_gasperetti
  2. eol, available here: https://eol.org/pages/2817781
  3. Fauna Facts, available here: https://faunafacts.com/snakes/can-you-outrun-a-snake/
  4. kidadl, available here: https://kidadl.com/animal-facts/sand-viper-facts