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Cerastes spp., African desert horned vipers

Clinical entries


  • 1. Cerastes boehmei
  • 2. Cerastes cerastes
  • 3. Cerastes gasperetti
  • 4. Cerastes vipera


Serpentes; Viperidae; Viperinae

Common names

African desert horned vipers, Hornviper

  • 2. Saharan horned viper
  • 3. Arabian horned viper
  • 4. Sahara sand viper, Sahara hornless viper, Avicenna viper


See link "Distribution" at the top of the page for detailed information.


Cerastes boehmi central Tunesia only

Cerastes cerastes: North Africa, from Morocco and Mauritania to Egypt and northern Sudan, southern Israel, western Jordan.

Cerastes gasperetti: Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, western Iran.
Cerastes vipera: Sahara from Mauritania to Egypt, Israel.


  Map 46 Cerastes spp.



Stout snakes with very distinct, triangular head. Tip of the snout blunt, nostrils directed upwards. C. cerastes sometimes has a horn-like protuberance over each eye, consisting of a single scale (but consisting of various scales in C. boehmi). In C. vipera the eyes are set at an angle and directed upwards. Length of C. cerastes 50–60 cm (max. 85 cm), C. vipera on average 35 cm (max. 50 cm).

Basic colouring from shades of grey or sand-coloured to reddish or brownish. Markings consist of brown blotches along the spine.

These predominantly nocturnal snakes typically inhabit sandy deserts. C. cerastes also found in stony regions with sparse vegetation. Not found higher than 1,500 m above sea level.

Their habits are well adapted to desert-like environments. They display typical behaviours, such as side-winding (see Echis spp.) or burrowing into the sand on the spot (through spreading movements of the ribs), until only the eyes and nostrils protrude.

When threatened, they rub the coils of their body together to produce a clearly audible warning sound, as with Echis spp.



Very little is known about the incidence of bites. Systemic envenoming is rare.

Literature (biological)

Gasperetti 1988, Disi 1990, Joger 1984, Latifi 1991, Leviton et al. 1992, Mallow et al. 2003, Minton 1984, 1992, Wagner and Willms 2010, Werner and Sivan 1992