Friday, June 5, 2009

Herps of Jordan, Part 3 (The Hills Have Eyes...Snake Eyes)

The hills in the Amman area remind me of the hills in southern California, particularly around Riverside county. The boulder-strewn, rocky hillsides cover the landscape, and coupled with short shrubs and bushes, the hills provide good cover for anything living in them. The weather also seems very comparable to that area of the states. As I walk through the hills, looking under bushes, overturning rocks, and peering under ledges, it's inevitable that I'll run across a snake or two.
I overturned one rock and saw (but only for a split second) a slender snake curled up. Before I could react, the quick serpent sped off through the low, prickly bushes and disappeared among some boulders. I was so disappointed with my herping skills for letting him get away, and I re-dedicated myself to practice quicker reflexes and smarter herping. I couple stones later I discovered his shed left behind, a depressing reminder of what just evaded me. The still-soft piece of skin was kind enough to hold still for a photo, revealing to me that my little friend was probably some specie of racer or whipsnake.
I walked down a small valley next to an agricultural area to look for more reptiles. A large dog on a nearby porch kept up his rhythmic barking like a metronome, while a couple bewildered faces gazed at me from their windows, wondering what this fully grown foreigner was doing walking slowly next to their farm turning over stones. I decided it was best not to make eye contact, but to just keep going as if I knew exactly what I was doing....which I did, I guess. Finally, another snake! Upon first glance, it would seem odd that an earthworm would be under a rock in a sandy desert area without any water. This, however, was no earthworm, but a very small snake.
A Eurasian blind snake (Typhlops vermicularis)
The vestigial eyes, appearance of scales around the head and body, and miniature pink tongue flicking in and out are all indicators of his reptilian origins.
Another slightly larger one was found further down the valley. Their internal organs, including their beating heart, can be seen through this specie's transparent underbelly.

I thought I had repeated my dreadful experience of letting a snake escape when I caught a glimpse of a pretty large snake slipping into a hole. Again, my heart sank until I looked into the hole and realized it was quite shallow, and the snake was comfortably curled up at the end.
Knowing that it couldn't go anywhere now, I took some time to assess the situation and my surroundings (should it try to dash back out), and I verifiend that it was not venomous. Actually, my identification went something like this: "Hmm...I really don't know the specie, but I know it isn't a viper, so who cares if I get bit." With an attitude of stubborn persistence, I reached my hand into the hole and pulled out the large, unhappy snake.
Needless to say, the irrate snake didn't hesitate to bite my hand. After researching, I discovered the specie is known as the Montpellier Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus), and it is mildly venomous. Effects of the venom include swelling and fever like symptoms. Lucky for me the fangs are located in the back of the mouth, and it was only able to latch on with his front teeth.
The Montpellier snake was a good 3 feet or more.
Here it is slipping down the nearest hole after being photographed.
Ouch! I don't blame it for being upset, and of course if I see another snake coiled in a hole, I'd do it all over again. More than a few snakes inhabit these hillsides, and my job is to herp them from the holes and crevices that they call home.


  1. OUCH! I do think the tiny little snake was cool!

  2. Nice post. Those blind snakes would have been cool to find, and nice job on reaching in and grabbing the other snake. Way to just go for it. Well its pretty hot here and I havent had much time to herp, plus when I do go herping I usually find a lot of things I have already caught. Unless I am willing to drive kinda far, which I dont have time to do. (plus that will be a trip for me and you in the future)

  3. True, we still have plenty of herping for AZ, you and I. If you happen upon something noteworthy, though, you can post it up. I have a couple more posts that I'll add in the coming days. I wish I just had some time for straight herping here (ideally, with you and for several days), but I'll post any new finds I get.