I love snakes, and a few years ago my friend @robberfly sent me a video of the Spider-tailed Horned Viper. I was floored, and never forgot about this bizarre animal. So when Matthieu Berroneau’s observation of one (the first one with photographs on iNat) was being passed around by the iNat crew it made my day.
OK, personal tangent out of the way.
A professional herper and photographer in the south of France, Matthieu Berroneau has also been obsessed with this snake, ever since it was first described in 2006. Despite having recently returned from a trip to Malaysia, he and his companions had the opportunity to visit Iran and they couldn’t turn it down. They “planned to observe different crazy species of Amphibians and Reptiles of Iran like Paradactylodon persicus, Phrynocephalus mystaceus and of course Pseudocerastes urarachnoides (Spider-tailed Horned Viper).” And that they did - with the help of local guides and their own expertise, Matthieu and his group found over 60 reptiles during their two week, 5,500 km trek through the country. The search for Pseudocerastes urarachnoides in Iran’s Ilam province was an adventure in and of itself, involving armed guards, stormy weather, and of course an encounter with a venomous snake. Matthieu goes into more detail here, definitely check it out. “This day will live long in my memory and it is still with stars in the eyes that we leave Ilam,” he wrote. "Iran is an absolutely beautiful country inhabited by friendly and cheerful people, full of incredible scenery and unsuspected wildlife."
The first specimen of Pseudocerastes urarachnoides was collected in a 1968 survey and promptly misidentified as a Persian horned viper (Pseudocerastes persicus) with a tumor or growth, rather than a new species. When another specimen was collected in 2003, it spurred more research and the description of a new species in 2006. And researchers suspected that the snake used its strange tail as a lure (which many other snakes do), this behavior wasn’t observed in the wild in until 2008. With its perfectly camouflaged scales, the snake is well hidden from its prey until it’s too late. However, at least one snake has been observed having its spider appendage pecked clean off by a bird!
Matthieu recently joined iNaturalist, but he’s been documenting his finds online for much longer - his high quality photos are on Flickr; he and his friends have created Herpetofocus.fr, where they share their photos and experiences; and he has a Facebook page. He’ll continue posting to iNaturalist and says he’s found it useful for keeping track of where he’s found his many subject. “And if at the same time this can help the scientistic community and the conservation of endangered species,” he says, “it's perfect for me!”
- by Tony Iwane
- Here’s some footage of Pseudocerastes urarachnoides using its tail to catch a bird.
- All of Matthieu’s iNat observations in Iran can be found here.
- Make sure to check out Herptofocus.fr’s trips page to read about their other amazing trips.
- The original published description of Pseudocerastes urarachnoides.
- Please note that while Matthieu writes excellent english, I did clean it some of his quotes for clarity.