Observation of the Week, 3/12/18

Our Observation of the Week is this amazing look at a Sahara Sand Viper, taken by @abdellahbouazza in Morocco!

Sand dunes present both an interesting challenge and an opportunity for legless predators like snakes. In order to move swiftly across the loose and often hot surface, vipers from both the old world and new world evolved the sidewinding form of locomotion. And for ambush predators like the above Sahara Sand Viper photographed by Abdellah Bouazza, the sand provides excellent opportunities for hiding.

A PhD a Marrakech University, Abdellah is a herpetologist who’s currently focusing “on some ecophysiological (thermoregulation, reproduction) and biogeographical aspects (distribution and conservation) of amphibians and reptiles in Morocco and others Mediterranean areas.”

In the spring of 2017 he and some friends traveled to southern Morocco in search of snakes. They visited the sandy areas of Khenifiss National Park and, after finding some other reptiles, also chanced upon the “beautiful small sand viper, Cerastes vipera (30 cm) during the first hours of the night” Abdellah explains that the coastal population of this snake differs morphologically from others, “with contrasted or dark brown colour patterns and bright orange eyes. It lives in coastal dunes from southwestern Morocco in sandy plateaus on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.”

With most of its body buried, the Sahara Sand Viper can both protect itself from the heat of the day and lie in wait for prey. However, it isn’t just a passive hunter: it lures prey by twitching the tip of its tail above the sand, then strikes when the rodent or lizard (or bird) is close enough. Like all vipers it is venomous and has retractable fangs. You wouldn’t want to get bitten by one, but its venom is not typically considered fatal to humans.

Abdellah (above, holding a snake) explains that “[when teaching] I enjoy showing students nature, her importance, and I hope to pass on my knowledge and passion to the next generation. I try to combine scientific research with creating awareness about the biodiversity around us.”

He only recently joined iNaturalist, but says that it “contributed my interest in sharing records of my observations and paying attention to my research subjects and biodiversity around me. Also, I can share my observation with several experts who are happy to help in determining some unknown species for me.”

- by Tony Iwane


- Abdellah has his own website and Flickr page. Check them out!

- On this trip Abdellah went with some friends from Atheris. They captured incredible video of a Sahara Sand Viper from Morocco here.

- On a personal note, I was lucky enough to see some perfect Sidewinder rattlesnake tracks in the Mojave Desert a few years ago. When sidewinding, the part of the snake touching the sand does not actually move, leaving impressions like these.

Posted by tiwane tiwane, March 12, 2018 21:38

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