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Saw-scaled viper is considered to be the world's most dangerous snake because of its highly toxic venom, its abundance near cultivated areas, and its aggressive, easily excitable temperament
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Saw-scaled Viper, Sochurek's or Eastern Saw-scaled viper, Multiscale or Transcaspian Saw-scaled viper, Astola Saw-scaled viper
Echis carinatus, Echis carinatus sochureki, Echis carinatus multisquamatus, Echis carinatus astolae

FACT FILE:
Local Name: Lundi, Khappra, Sindh khappra, Waziristan khappra, Astola khappra (Urdu)
Family: VIPERIDAE
Genus: Echis
Status: Rare and restricted to common
Warning: This snake is considered to be the world's most dangerous snake because of its highly toxic venom, its abundance near cultivated areas, and its aggressive, easily excitable temperament

 

Saw-scaled viper (Echis carinatus)
Photo Credit:
H.H. Schleich

 

 

Species and sub species:

Genus Echis is represented in Pakistan by one species and 4-5 subspecies:

  • Saw-scaled Viper (Echis carinatus)
    Subspecies:

  • Sochurek's or Eastern Saw-scaled viper (Echis carinatus sochureki)

  • Multiscale or Transcaspian Saw-scaled viper (Echis carinatus multisquamatus)

  • Astola Saw-scaled viper (Echis carinatus astolae)

Description and Biology:
The average length of this snake is 0.4 to 0.6 meters. The body is slender to moderately stout and slightly flattened vertically. The head is short, distinctly wider than neck and has alight-colored trident, cruciform or arrow-shaped mark on the head. There is a pale stripe from each eye to angle of mouth. The throat and chin are white. The topside of E.carinatus is buff or tan, to olive brown or chestnut with dark-edged whitish spots along backbone, narrow, undulating white line along sides (upper portions of loops more conspicuous than lower portions). The underside is white, grayish-white, yellowish-white, pale pinkish-brown, stippled with dark gray. The tail is short, tapers abruptly and is about 10 percent of total body length.

 

Key to the Pakistani species and subspecies of genus Echis 

1. Continuous lateral wavy white line; 

    ventrals 169199; 

    34-40 midbody scale rows.. ...........................................E. multisquamatus

    Lateral wavy white line divided in separate arcs; 

    25-38 midbody scale rows; 

    ventrals 153-189

2. Genials large, regularly arranged; 

    middorsal scales with humped keels .................................E. pyramidum 

    Genials small, irregularly arranged; 

    mid-dorsal scales with straight keels ...............................E.carinatus 

3.  Body light, with broad dark blotches................................E.c.astolae

    Body brownish with white bordered dark spots ................. E.c.sochureki

 

General characteristics
Echis carinatus:

Body stocky, tail very short and abruptly tapering from vent. Head short, distinctly wider from neck, covered with small strongly keeled imbricate scales, 812 between supraoculars; nostrils small, dosolateral; supralabials 812, separated from ocular by one or two rows of small scales, 1013 in- fralabials; anterior genial broad, followed by three pairs of slightly enlarged scales; 24-37 scales at midbody, strongly keeled; scales of 3rd to 7th lateral rows strongly oblique, with cirrated keels; ventrals 132-188, subcaudals 23-39, anal single. Dorsum light brown to yellowish brown, sometimes olive brown. A median row of 2837 whitish blotches with dark edges. Sides with undulating white line, dorsal loops are more prominent, but are diluted ventrally. Head with light arrow- head mark, posterior three prongs extend a considerable distance. A pale stripe from eye to angle of mouth. Labials lighter, with small dots. Ventrum white to light pinkish, with fine dark gray spottings. Snout-vent length 600-625 mm, tail length 51-56 mm.

 


Saw-scaled viper (Echis carinatus)
Photo Credit:
unknown

 

Echis carinatus sochureki:

Small head scales, except 3-4 larger supraoculars; 29-33 midbody scale rows; middorsal scales with flat keel; oviparous. Dorsum tan, grayish or brown, with a median row of 30 whitish, (never yellowish) blotches with dark brown edges. Wide U-shaped ventrally open lateral marks and distinct dark spots. Ventrum whitish, with dark gray spottings. Head with light arrow head mark directed towards snout. A light loreal stripe extends to the angle of mouth.

 

Echis carinatus multisquamatus:

Head mark always cross-shaped; lateral white line continuous undulating; narrow transverse white bands on middorsum; 34-40 midbody scale counts (highest of all subspecies); ventrals 169-199 (highest of all subspecies).

 

Echis carinatus astolae:

Dorsum whitish, with a pattern of dark brown blotches, 1-3 lateral rows of dark brown spots, no lateral light arcs, a three-pronged light mark on head directed towards snout. A light lateral line from temporals meeting atfrontal region, giving a branch to snout.

 

 


Different subspecies of genus Echis
a) Echis carinatus
b) Echis carinatus multisquamatus
c) Echis carinatus sochureki
Photo Credit:
Dr. Muhammad Sharif Khan

 

Biology:
This snake is primarily nocturnal in hot weather (may be active at dusk) and is sometimes diurnal in cool weather. It may be found basking during early morning in bushes more than 2 meters above ground. It basks in open during cooler weather, but is found more frequently under rocks or in mounds of dead plant stalks. This snake can bury itself in sand with only the head exposed. It is fairly active and can move rapidly in a side winding motion. In dry weather it hunts prey almost entirely at night, but may hunt by day in cool weather. Always alert this snake can become easily excited. It can be really aggressive and is likely to flee when encountered, but has been reported to chase victims aggressively. Usually confines itself to the roots of a shrub, waiting for its prey. As prey, which is often a sand lizard, comes within range, it is attacked. Ill-tempered, hisses loudly and goes on striking savagely, often pursues its prey for some distance. It is reported to follow pedestrians for considerable distances. It can take a jump of 1-2 feet high and can climb into branches of low bushes to avoid heat at ground, and to feed on nestlings of desert birds. When on the defensive, it rolls itself in characteristic loops, reminding of figure '8'. The loops work against each other, sawing side scales produce characteristic rustling noise which is enhanced by hissing sound. People believe a snake in this position is dissolving its venom and is said to be very poisonous. This snake is considered to be the world's most dangerous snake because of its highly toxic venom, its abundance near cultivated areas, and its aggressive, easily excitable temperament.

 

Breeding season extends from mid-February to late April. Viviparous races give birth to 6-28 young, while oviparous lay almost as many hard-shelled white eggs. Juveniles are met with from March to July. In northern areas of Pakistan, this snake hibernates during winter. Often in bright clear day basking snakes are observed, while in southern warmer areas it is not known to hibernate.

 

Diet includes common toad Bufo stomaticus, Hoplobatmchus tigerinus, lizards: Crossobamon orientalis, Acantho' dactylus contorts, Ophiomorous tridactylus and deserticole arthropods. Captives feed on a variety of geckos, lacertids, bird eggs and nestlings..

 

Habitat, Distribution and Status:
Widely distributed from northern Africa, through Middle East, southern former Russia, descending to Iran, Afghanistan, most of Pakistan, excluding high northern mountains, India, and Sri Lanka. Several species and subspecies of genus Echis has been distinguished throughout its wide Saharo-Sindhian range, of which at least four to five are represented in Pakistan. 

 

Saw scale viper is recorded from sandy and rocky alluvial habitat, with sparse xerophytic to moderately dense grass and scrub vegetation. It is found in large numbers in deserts and dry areas and is also found in sandy areas, rocky areas, and scrub forests from sea level to about 1,800 meters. In mountainous habitat, it lives under rock blocks, while in sub-mountain region, it inhabits hedges and other scrubby vegetation, prominently avoids marshy areas and very dense vegetation. 

 

Echis carinatus sochureki is found in Northern India, whole of Pakistan, except high mountains in north, southern Afghanistan, central Iran to Iranian Gulf coast and Khuzestan. 

 

Echis carinatus multisquamatus is found from Caspian Sea, through Turkmenistan, into Bukhara, Samarkand and Tashkent, to Tajikistan along Afghan border, up to Hindukush, northeastern Balochistan, NWFP and eastern Iran.

 

Echis carinatus astolae has been reported from island Astola, off the Makran coast, Pakistan.

 

 

Echis c. sochureki ()
Echis c. astole (
o)
Echis c. multisquamatus ()

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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