Snakes are diverse creatures that live in a variety of ecosystems. While they flourish in places like jungles, swamps, and forests, many of them lurk underneath the desert sands and hide in plain sight.
Desert snake species include rattlesnakes, rosy boas, Sahara sand vipers, desert death adders, and others. Because of the harsh temperatures and environment, many snake species have adapted to hide from the heat, live with little water, and blend in with the barren surroundings.
In this article, you will learn about six species of snakes that thrive and survive with particular adaptations in deserts worldwide.
Known for their shovel-shaped heads, venomous fangs, and rattles that issue deadly warnings, these snakes are one of the most recognizable and familiar desert-dwelling snakes. Over 30 rattlesnake types have been identified in deserts of the United States, Central America, and South America. They can reach anywhere from 36 to 72 inches (91 to 182 centimeters) when fully grown.
Like many other snakes found in the desert, rattlesnakes adapt to survive when water is nowhere to be found.
According to research published in 2019, rattlesnake scales maintain a shape that allows them to collect rainwater on their backs in channel-like troughs that resemble rain gutters. Because of this rigid shape, the water stays on the snake’s back for later use when the snakes are away from accessible water sources.
2. Rosy Boa
The rosy boa is a docile, non-venomous snake found in southern California, Arizona, Colorado, and Mexico. Usually, rosy boas will grow to lengths of 24 to 36 inches (60 to 92 centimeters) but can occasionally exceed 48 inches (122 centimeters).
Their name comes from the orange-colored stripes that go down their body and their pink undersides. However, research studies show that their stripes may also be tan, red, or yellow depending on temperature and environmental conditions.
These snakes are most active from sundown to sunrise due to the cooler temperatures at night. When the weather is too hot, they will overtake burrows of other small rodents or animals to use as shelter until they are ready to come out again.
While they are not very aggressive, rosy boas can turn themselves into a tightened ball and secrete a musk from their tails to defend themselves from predators such as birds of prey or other venomous snakes.
3. Sahara Sand Viper
Sahara sand vipers, or common sand vipers, are venomous snakes typically found in the Sahara desert in northern Africa and parts of Saudi Arabia. They are usually 8 to 14 inches (20 to 50 centimeters) long but can sometimes grow a little longer.
They are usually tan or beige with large brown spots, and this coloration is essential for helping them camouflage when hunting prey. This color pattern allows them to easily blend into the sand when they bury themselves to strike down unsuspecting prey.
These vipers are also a type of snake called a sidewinder. Instead of slithering like other species, the Sahara sand viper will lift its body off the ground in a curved sideways motion. Instead of struggling against the sand’s slippery texture, they can rapidly move back and forth over the sandy terrain at about 18 miles (29 kilometers) an hour.
To see this sidewinding movement in action, check out this video.
4. Black-Necked Spitting Cobra
The black-necked spitting cobra can be found throughout parts of Africa and can grow up to 48 inches (213 centimeters) long. They are typically solid black with lighter undersides, and like other species of cobra, they have large hoods surrounding their heads.
These cobras use a distinct defense mechanism to protect themselves from threats: spitting venom. A study by Katja Tzschätzsch found that the black-necked spitting cobras’ spit can be launched over 8 feet (2.4 meters) away and aim for the eyes of those who approach them. Their venom is expelled rapidly and accurately at those who may try to attack.
5. Central Asian Pit Viper
The Central Asian pit viper, or the Mongolian pit viper, is primarily found in the Gobi Desert in China and Mongolia. However, they have also been sighted in parts of Iran and Afghanistan.
They are usually between 15 and 30 inches (38 and 76 centimeters) long, have broader heads, and are light tan with large brown spots. Like many other vipers, the Central Asian pit viper has retractable venomous fangs.
Because of the desert’s excessive temperature, they are primarily active at night. While they occasionally hunt in the daytime, they usually burrow in the sand until the temperature begins to decrease at night.
To hunt their prey in the dark, this viper utilizes small organs near their eyes called pits to sense heat. When the pits detect the body heat, the viper knows what direction it needs to strike in to successfully secure a meal in even the darkest environment.
6. Desert Death Adder
The desert death adder lives in regions across Australia and Papua New Guinea, and they can grow anywhere from 16 to 28 inches (400 to 700 centimeters) long. They are notorious for their deadly venom that causes severe damage to the nervous system with a single bite.
These adders’ scales vary in color and texture. Their reddish-brown and yellow stripes coil around their bodies and stop right above the ends of their tail. In contrast, their tail tip is either a shade of yellow or dark black and is significantly more narrow than the rest of their body.
The desert death adder uses its tail tip as a way to hunt because it mimics the worms that its prey feeds on. Blending in against the surface of the sand, they will first hide beneath the surface or under shrubbery. This tactic is so their target cannot see them.
After, they begin wiggling their tail like a lure. Animals such as rodents or lizards will mistake the tip for food and then find themselves captured by the adder in the blink of an eye.