African horn vipers

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African horn vipers
Desert horned viper (Cerastes cerastes)

Desert horned viper ( Cerastes cerastes )

without rank: Toxicofera
Subordination : Snakes (serpentes)
Superfamily : Adder-like and viper-like (Colubroidea)
Family : Vipers (Viperidae)
Subfamily : Real vipers (Viperinae)
Genre : African horn vipers
Scientific name
Laurenti , 1768

The African horn vipers ( Cerastes ), often just referred to as horn vipers , are a genus of real vipers with currently four species that live in North Africa and southwest Asia, especially on the Arabian Peninsula . Characteristic and eponymous are the horns above the eyes, each consisting of a scale, which are more or less pronounced in all species.


The African Horn Vipers are medium-sized vipers with a stocky body and a short, pointed tail. The body is covered by inclined rows of scales with strongly keeled scales.

The head is broadly flattened and triangular and clearly set off from the body. It is covered by small, irregular and keeled scales, the number of which is usually more than 15 individual scales. The muzzle is broad and short and the eyes are relatively small with a usually perpendicular pupil . On the scales above the eyes ( supraocularia ) there are mostly conspicuous horns, each consisting of one scale. However, these can also be absent in all species within the same population . Only in the Avicennaviper ( C. vipera ) is the hornless form the rule.

Way of life

The African horn vipers are primarily crepuscular and nocturnal and bury themselves in the sand in the midday heat or hide in mammalian structures or under stones. Horn vipers can be found in quite different habitats within the desert, from the stony hamada to the pure sand desert, but prefer to stay in the vicinity of plant collections. They move quickly crosswinding . In doing so, they alternately lift a piece of the body behind the head and in front of the tail off the ground and put it back down again. The snake leaves the characteristic traces of the sidewalks in the sand. With their scales, the animals can create a rattling noise by rubbing against each other.

Preferred prey include small vertebrates such as birds, lizards and rodents, but also insects.


Head of the Desert horned viper ( cerastes cerastes )

There are currently four species of the African horned vipers:

Snake venom

The venom of all African horn vipers is highly hemotoxic and treatment with an adequate antivenin is necessary.


  • David Mallow, David Ludwig, Göran Nilson: True Vipers. Natural History and Toxicology of Old World Vipers , Krieger Publishing Company, Malabar (Florida) 2003, pp. 127-140, ISBN 0-89464-877-2
  • Ulrich Gruber: The snakes of Europe. Franckh'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Stuttgart 1989; Pages 205-207. ISBN 3-440-05753-4 . Pages 127-140

Individual evidence

  1. Cerastes in The Reptile Database

Web links

Commons : African Horn Vipers ( Cerastes )  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files