Desert black snake, Black desert cobra
Walterinnesia aegyptia, also known as the desert cobra or desert black snake, is a species of venomous snakes in the family Elapidae that is native to the Middle East. The specific epithet aegyptia (“of Egypt”) refers to part of its geographic range.
The Desert cobra is a highly venomous snake native to the Middle East. It is entirely black in color and has highly shiny scales. It is medium in length, with a medium, cylindrical body and a short tail. Its head is moderately small, broad, flattened, and slightly distinct from the neck. The eyes are small in size with round pupils. Unlike other snakes commonly referred to as "cobras", the Desert cobra rarely rear up or produces a hood before striking in defense.
Desert cobras are found in the countries of Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, northwestern Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. They may also be found in the areas of Syria that border Lebanon, as well as the deserts of Qatar. These snakes live in the desert (excluding completely sand deserts such as the ad-Dahna Desert). They can also be found in semi-desert scrubland and rocky terrain, extending into the foothills of vegetated Mediterranean terrain. They are also often found near human habitation in irrigated agricultural settlements.
Desert cobras are solitary and strictly terrestrial snakes. They spend considerable time underground and are most active around midnight. Due to this, their vision is poorly developed and these snakes rely more on their sense of smell. They actively pursue and forage for their prey; rather than envenomate their prey with an open mouth, they'll usually bite their prey sideways at short distances and often use constriction and suffocation techniques in addition to their venom to kill their prey. There are reports of these snakes being aggressive when disturbed, but like most snakes, they will usually try to escape rather than immediately bite or face their threat. Venom is not injected immediately when they bite but released seconds later with chewing movement.
The desert cobra is highly venomous. The subcutaneous LD50 for the venom of W. aegyptia is 0.4 mg/kg. For comparison, the Indian cobra's (Naja naja ) subcutaneous LD50 is 0.80 mg/kg, while the Cape cobra's (Naja nivea ) subcutaneous LD50 is 0.72 mg/kg. This makes the desert black snake a more venomous snake than both. Venom toxins of the desert cobra are similar to those of the king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah ), indicating a close relationship.Show More
Like many elapid snakes, the venom is primarily neurotoxic and the effects of envenenomation are due to systemic circulation of the toxins rather than from local effects on tissue near the site of injection.Show Less
Desert cobras are carnivores and feed mainly on lizards such as skinks, geckos, agamids, other snakes, toads, and occasionally mice and birds. They will also readily eat carrion.
Desert cobras are oviparous meaning that they lay their eggs.
Desert cobras don't face major threats at present. However, in some areas of their range, these snakes are heavily collected for venom extraction; they also suffer from habitat loss due to urbanization and overgrazing.
According to IUCN, the Desert cobra is locally common throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List but its numbers today are decreasing.