Horned vipers are snakes that most commonly are desert dwelling sidewinders. There are several species of horned vipers, and all of the species are identifiable by the “horns” protruding above the eyes or from the top of the nose. Their side-winding action allows them to travel quickly across sand — which gets extremely hot under the desert sun — while minimizing surface area contact. Most species of these snakes are highly venomous and should be avoided by anyone who is not an expert handler.
Cerastes cerastes, the desert horned viper, has a very large range, being found in desert regions spanning the Sahara in the western side of Africa from Morocco to Mauritania to Egypt and Sudan. Desert horned vipers also can be found in the arid southern regions of the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq and Israel. Of all venomous snakes, the horned viper is considered to be the most abundant in its range.
Desert horned vipers have one horn above each eye, and the horns fold flat when touched, making it easier for the snake to squeeze into small openings and burrow beneath the sand. The head is broad and flat, with a rounded nose and hinged fangs. This species has large, forward-facing eyes with vertical pupils. Horned vipers are carnivorous, feeding mainly on lizards but also small mammals and birds. The snakes burrow beneath the surface of the sand, with its horns and eyes visible while it waits to ambush potential prey.
The Cerastes gasperettii, commonly known as the Arabian horned viper, is a close relative of the desert horned viper. It has a similar size and exhibits the same feeding and behavior patterns. The range of this species is much smaller than that of the desert horned viper, extending from the southern reaches of Israel into Iraq and eastern Iran.
Another species inhabiting Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula is the Persian horned viper, Pseudocerastes persicus. This species has a wide, flat head and a stout body. Persian horned vipers have a single, scaly horn protruding from above each eye. Bites from the Persian horned viper, while highly toxic, are infrequent. This species primarily is nocturnal and might be found resting in shady locations during the day.
Bitis nasicornis, or the rhinoceros viper, exhibits two to three horn-like protrusions on the nasal area. This snake also is venomous, like most viper species. It also is known as a river Jack and inhabits rainforests, swamps and any area close to large bodies of water. Its range includes the tropical and subtropical areas of Africa. The rhinoceros viper preys on small mammals, frogs and fish.
Bitis cornuta is commonly known as the many-horned viper. It has a set of at least two and as many as seven horn-like scales above each of its eyes. Its habitat consists of rocky, arid desert regions in South Africa.