The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918
The Suborder Ophidia of the great Class Reptilia has come into prominence on the Palestine Front, though it is never mentioned in official communiqués. It is in the bivvies that one gathers the latest snake-news, and, too often, encounters the reptiles themselves.
At least four cases of snake-bite have occured recently among the troops and three were fatal. Active measure are being taken to deal with the menace. A large number of snakes has been collected, but all those examined so far have proved to be non-venomous species.
Reptiles have always interested me. At a certain camp in the Desert, I captured scores of snakes and lizards; but my bivvy mates had a strange aversion for such pets, and I had to be content with studying them out in the open. One day the M. O. saw me catch a lovely little specimen of Macro-protodon cucullatus by the tail; and he spoke, briefly, but to the point. After that I went far afield to pursue my ophidian studies.
Serpents are plentiful in Palestine, and the Jordan Valley has a fair share both of species and individuals. Though many of them are harmless, it is a wise plan to treat all with caution. Even naturalists have a lot to learn about Promised Land snakes, and how shall the layman know venomous from non-venomous species? Perchance some undescribed serpents are deadly as the cobra.
There are several species of viper, and all are very venomous. Their coloration varies so much that descriptions are of little use. A common form, and one of the largest (it attains a length of three feet), may be grey, yellow, brown or reddish, with dark zigzag markings; or again, the colour may be uniform, while some specimens display lateral or vertical bars. All vipers possess very rough scales. The Cerastes viper can be recognised by its short black tail; and the species known as Cerastes cornutus generally, but not invariably, bears two sharp, thorn-like horns on its head, above the snout.
Egypt boasts seven species of semi-poisonous snakes, and some of them extend their range into Palestine; none is dangerous to human life. Even to kill their prey, these snakes must get a firm grip with their fangs and then force venom slowly into the victim. To this series belong the sand-snakes, Psammophis schokari and P. sibilans (the hissing sand-snake); both kinds are long and slender and very variable in colour. Some specimens are uniform brown, grey or blackish brown, while others are finely marked.
The sand-boa (Eryx jaculus), which often measures 70 centimetres in length, is non-venomous. It is coloured like a Turkish carpet, a study in rich browns, reds and purple-greys. Clifford's snake (Zamenis diadema), another of the harmless clan, is also beautifully coloured in patterns; it attains a length of five feet. Many of the small snakes found in Palestine are non-poisonous but—another warning—treat them all with caution; even experts err.
I am indebted to Captain S. Flower. Director of Giza Zoological Gardens, for this bit of folk-lore, and also for many facts regarding the snakes and lizards of Palestine.