Reptiles of Egypt

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Reptiles of Egypt

Reptiles of Egypt

There are many kinds of reptiles here in Egypt. I suppose one can't have a desert without snakes. For example the extremely dangerous Saw-Scaled Viper. Like its distant cousins, the rattlesnakes, the Saw-Scaled Viper warns all around of its coming. As it moves, the rough scales make a harsh rasping sound across the sand. When you hear this sound, it means you have to get away fast . Yet there are snakes quite useful so the Sand Boa is one of them. It's a fairly small non-venomous snake, only a couple of feet long, but it proves quite deadly to the rodent population.

Scorpions

Here's another creature we'd all like to avoid - scorpion . The tip of its tail delivers a powerful sting. The venom of most scorpions in Egypt is painful, but not deadly. However, the Palestinian Yellow Scorpion (thankfully rare) has a venom that is potentially lethal.

Nile Crocodiles

Today, the Nile crocodile, or crocodylus niloticus , is on the verge of extinction. No longer does it command the Nile waters. Instead, the crocodile has become the prize of ever-more stylised hunts. In the 1950s, professional hunters from around the world were given permission to come to Egypt and hunt crocodiles -- a lucrative business considering the high price fetched by crocodile skins. By the 1960s what remained of the crocodile population was dammed off in the newly created Lake Nasser by the building of the Aswan High Dam. The lake was a secluded habitat and the crocodile population has managed to make a small comeback, aided in large part by the naming of the area as an environmental protectorate.

Nasser lake crocodiles

The Nile crocodile, Naser lake's biggest resident, was actually on the verge of disappearing from Egypt , but when the lake was created its population bounced back. Today, and after more than 37 years since the High Dam's inauguration, unofficial census estimates the number of Nile crocodiles in Lake Nasser to be around the 70,000 figure; stunning to say the least. The second largest of the crocodilian family, the Nile crocodile is found throughout most of Africa 's mainland, south of the Sahara , as well as Madagascar . This giant reptile averages five metres in length with adult males weighing half a tonne on average. Infrequent recordings had exceptional males weighing up to a tonne. It is a beautiful creature, and believe it or not, it is an amazingly caring parent. Of all reptiles, only female crocodiles guard their eggs for the whole incubation period (in their case three months) with the father-to-be waiting nearby for the eggs to hatch. The parents will mercilessly attack any creature that gets too close. And if you think that crocodiles lose their edge when out of water, please think again. They can gallop as fast as a human being, so be extra careful when on shore so as not to disturb a parenting crocodile couple, especially in their nesting season: November to December in North Africa .

The role of the doting parents does not end here; once the hatchlings start emitting a high-pitched chirping noise before hatching, the mother heeds the calling and rips open the nest. Both parents carry their completely defenceless 30cm-long baby crocs in between their killer jaws and take them to the water. The newborns are a favourite snack of a number of marine animals, so the mother crocodile stays with her babies up to two years, when the babies grow to 1.2 metres in length, and start to be fine on their own.

It is important to note that saltwater and Nile crocodiles top the list of the most dangerous among the crocodilian family.

The crocodylus niloticus

The crocodylus niloticus , has an invaluable place in the delicate ecosystem of Lake Nasser . The crocodiles feed on catfish and crabs, which in turn feed on bolty fish in the lake. They also consume dead animals, which helps keep the water from getting polluted. Crocodile waste is also known to be a source of minerals, which enriches the nutrition base for fish in the lake.

Lizards on rocks

Being 'cold-blooded', lizards use the sun to warm up so that they are able to move quickly and escape their predators, mainly birds. Therefore they spend lots of time basking on the top of rocks and walls, making them easy to see with decent binoculars.

Agama stellio

However, the one's we're interested in locally, scientifically known as Agama stellio vulgaris, are about 20cm long. Living mainly off insects and spiders, with a little light salad on the side, they hide in vegetation or under rocks waiting for their next meal to pass by. Their hapless prey first knows it's come to a sticky end when it gets caught on the end of the lizard's mucous covered tongue. From there on in it's bitten by the first set of teeth and then crushed by the second before being swallowed.

It's all about colour you see if you want to distinguish between male and female. The last ones are of a brown colour all over unless they're carrying eggs, in this case their head turns blue to warn off any prospective admirers.

On the next rung up are the subordinate males who most of the time are brown with an olive green head. The biggest representatives of this family can reach up to 25cm. Their body is blue, with a red or yellow head and tail. Should any lizard try to muscle in on his territory, the behaviour that follows is as follows: it starts off with a bit of animated 'head nodding' as a sign that trouble is imminent. If the competitor doesn't take the hint then it gets a bit more serious, moving on to a kind of push up where the whole torso of the biggest one begins to bob up and down as he starts to get angry and turn a darker shade. It should be obvious to all but the uninitiated by now that it's time to back off. However, if the smaller lizard doesn't retreat, the biggest one begins to get really upset and starts hopping around for a while before charging across, spinning around Kung Fu style and smacking the young pretender hard with his tail. This continues in a show of bluffs, threats and finally out and out combat until the best man wins.

Sinai Agama

Like the Starred Agama, this is a fairly large lizard with a heart-shaped head and strongly built body; the legs are long and slender and the ears very large and obvious. In the breed-ing season the male has a startlingly turquoise-blue colour of variable extent over the head and front parts of the body, or sometimes even more; the extent of the blue is a signal of dominance and territory ownership and fades rapidly in individuals that lose confrontations with other males. When breeding the female has a blue head and some brick-red bands on the back. The male is often encountered perched on the top of a rock, keeping watch for intruders into his territory; there is about one territory every half-a-kilometer of wadis. It ranges from Libya to Saudi Arabia.

Fan footed gecko

The “fan” shaped feet are diagnostic of these geckos which are often found during the day on rocks in the wadis. There are two species in South Sinai, one with a tail longer (Egyptian Fan-footed Geckot Phassequistiij nocturnal, found at low elevations <900 m) and one shorter than the snout-vent distance (Spotted Fan-footed Gecko, Pguttatus, more diurnal, found at high elevations >800 m). Both species are very common, especially near water.

Starred Agama

This fairly large lizard has the typical broad heart-shaped head and strongly built body of the agamids. It is identified by its spiny tail, the band of lumpy enlarged keeled scales along the sides of the back, the ca. five transverse yellow bands on the back, and the conspicuously banded yellow and black tail. With only a small distribution in Sinai and adjacent mountains areas of Israel, Jordan and NW Saudi Arabia, it is frequently seen in the mountains sunning on rocks, or waiting to attack passing large insects such as dragonflies.

Lizards on Sand

Sand is a major habitat for lizards; they are even found in the remotest depths of the Western Desert, far from any vegetation or water. The ecosystem there is based on food input in the form dying migrant birds, which are then fed upon by a little food web of insects, lizards and some mammals.

Bosc’s lizard

A sand-coloured fast-moving elongated lizard with fringes on its toes, mostly encountered on sand or gravel. It is the commonest lizard in South Sinai, and the only member of its genus except on the plain of El Qaa by the Suez Gulf, where the Nidua Lizard Ascutellatus also occurs. It feeds on insects, and in the morning and evening spends a lot of its time basking to maintain its body temperature.

Dabb lizards

Are large, strongly built lizards with short thick tails. There are two species in South Sinai: the Egyptian (U.aegyptia), up to 70 cms long, with spiny tubercles on the flanks of the rear part of the body; and the beautifully coloured Ornate (Usornata), up to 40 cms long, with smooth flanks but with large spiny tubercles on the upper thigh. They are diurnal, living on large gravel plains and wide wadis, where they feed on plants and seldom stray far away from their burrows: In the past these lizards were eaten by the Bedouins.

Ocellated skink

Skinks differ from lacertid lizards in having a series of pores on the underside of their back legs. The Ocellated skink has a rounded snout in profile rather than wedge-shaped with a sharp edgei smooth dorsal scales and is usually olive-grey or brown with scattered white and black scales. There is only one species of the genus in South Sinai, They occur near vegetation, and are usually crepuscular, with variable diurnal and/or noctural activity.

Female lizards

Female lizards prefer to mate when it's damp, she's ripe for reproduction at 18 months, although it takes the males a little longer to be interested. However, after the tender age of 2 years there's no stopping them. They sneak up behind the young maiden of their choice and nod their little heads up and down in eager anticipation. If madam accepts, she arches her back, lifts up her tail and a couple of minutes of manic thrusting follows. After this, female scurries immediately away into the shade, although male lizard requires a few more moments to regain his composure before continuing with life under a rock.

Usually, half a dozen eggs are laid in a hole in damp sand. A couple of months later they dig their way out and immediately start eating anything they can find. If their nest was a warm one, over 29 degrees, then they'll all be hot-blooded males. The cooler the nest, the more Ice Maidens are hatched. If they manage to survive their predators for their first couple of solitary months, they find themselves a group to join and start the game all over again.

Snakes

Snakes are still fairly common in Egypt, and there are a number of poisonous species to be aware of. Mostly they avoid humans and thus luckily they are seldom seen.

Burton’s Carpet Viper

Vipers have triangular heads with hollow hinged poison fangs, a vertical pupil to the eye, keeled scales, and a stocky build with a short tail. Each is a fairly large snake (up to 50 cm) with a dorsal pattern of alternating dark-edged pale-grey saddles and large rufous-brown blotches, a lateral series of dark spots, a dark-grey band from the eye to the corner of the mouth, and no 'horns'. It is a characteristic but uncommon species of the steep slopes of the high mountains, often near water. It is crepuscular and nocturnal, and is dangerously venomous.

Horned Viper

Despite the name, only about half of Horned Vipers in Egypt have horns; it is a large snake up to 74 cm long, sandy-coloured with large brown spots or squares on the dorsal midline alternating with smaller lateral dark spots. A species typical of wadis with vegetation and sandy areas, it also occurs in a wide variety of other habitats; it is more common at lower elevations. It is a dangerously poisonous snake. It buries itself in sand under vegetation, waiting for suitable prey to come to rest in the shade.

Hoogstraal’s Cat Snake

A medium-sized thin snake with a black head and neck, and a grey body with about 30-40 thin black bands. This is a rare species, endemic to a very small area of Sinai* the Negev and western Jordan. Not a great deal is known about its biology, but it is nocturnal, foraging among plants in mountain wadis.

List of Flora and fauna

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Published: 12 Dec 2018 Last update: 28 Jun 2020