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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Creature Feature: Spider-tailed Viper.

"Spider ball, spider ball...does whatever a spider ball does..." 

The above snippet is thesong that I must resist singing every time I pass by a spider ball python in the reptile store.For the uninformed, the spider ball is a pattern and color variation of ball python; the black bands are so narrow that they resemble a spider's webbing, and the overall snake looks a lot lighter as well. This entry is not about them, but, rather, a different sort of mix of spider and snake.

Mad props to Omid Mozaffari.


The spider-tailed viper (Pseudocerastes urarachnoides) is a new-ish snake that was only recognized as a species in 2006.  It was found in Iran - y'know, one of those areas in the Middle East with a lot of desert. It eats birds and probably munches rodents as well. The rule of thumb with vipers is "it can kill you," so unfortunately anyone wanting one as a pet probably has a death wish as well.

First, a little bit about tail lures. There are several species of snake that use their tails to mimic a worm or some other appetizing invertebrate. The idea is that a bird or other animal will think that lure is a meal. Then, down come those jaws in a blur of teeth and poison. Mammals have absolutely nothing like this; as far as I know, it's purely a reptile thing. (Please correct me if I'm wrong!)

Same pic, emphasis on the lure.


That said, the spider-tailed viper is the unholy god of tail lures. It's one thing to move the tail like a worm, and quite another to copy something that has legs and distinct body segments. If you were not looking for a snake, you would think that it was indeed a desert spider. Hell, there are things that look almost like that in my basement. This snake is doing a really good job of bringing arachnophobes and ophidophobes together. High-Octane Nightmare Fuel, much?

The "spider" is made by strange scales that look like a spider's legs and abdomen. Birds, mammals, and quite a few lizards are visual hunters, watching for movement in order to hunt; this snake takes things up a notch by making its tail have the shape of a spider, too.All the snake has to do is wiggle its spider-tail just right and BAM! Bird in the jaws.  Given how long it took for this snake to be properly identified, birds were not the only ones fooled.

"Spider-tail, spider-tail...does whatever a spider-tail does...."

Feel free to shoot me for that one.

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