Episode 150 – Spider-Tailed Horned Viper: The Crafty Serpent

“And today we’re talking about something we were supposed to talk about a few weeks ago but we goofed and now we’re talking about it now. More on that now.”

Hunters have all kinds of methods to help catch their prey. There’s ambushing, stalking, and brute force. But one of the most clever ways may be luring. Snakes are usually predators of the ambush varieties, though they’ll engage in a stalking or two. But one dessert viper has been known to employ a lure that would make the most experienced fishermen blush. But anatomical trickery may be the key to this serpent’s survival in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Description of the Spider-Tailed Horned Viper

  • We did the horned viper not too long ago and the spider-tail looks very similar, with some titular differences.
  • It’s a short-ish, thick-ish snake with very spiky scales. Kinda looks like jackfruit skin. Like a paw paw, or a prickly pear–so don’t pick a raw paw and next time, beware. 
  • It has the characteristic wide, triangular head of a viper with a series of scales that form devilish horns above the eyes.
  • The eyes are yellowish-tan and have those vertical cat pupils
  • Spidey’s scales have a base tan with some brown sun spots patterned down the length of its body.
  • Like all vipers, spidey has a pair of sharp fangs that act like hypodermic needles to inject venom into its prey.
  • And like all snakes, it can “unhinge” its jaw to swallow prey several times larger than its head. Though they don’t actually “unhinge” or “dislocate” their jaws since they were never hinged in the first place. They’re attached by stretchy ligaments instead.
  • Other than that, there’s nothing else to say about its appearance. Completely normal and boring snake tail.

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words measure up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We don’t have a Measure Up intro this week. That means, we get to hear from an animal and Carlos has to guess what it is. 

Length

  • 531 mm (20 inches)
  • How many vipers go into Mount Damavand, the tallest mountain in Iran?
  • Hint: The mountain is significant in Persion mythology and folklore and it’s depicted on Iran’s 10,000 rials banknote.
  • 11,041.8 snakes. The mountain is 5,609.2 m (18,403 ft) tall.

Weight

  • The persian horned viper, another snake in the genus, is about 500 g (1.1 lb).
  • How many snakes go into the world’s heaviest bird, the ostrich?
  • Hint: The ostrich can be up to nine feet tall. 
  • 254.5 snakes. A male ostrich can be up to 280 pounds. 

Fast Facts About the Spider-Tailed Horned Viper

  • Diet: It loves to eat birds. That’s all I’ll say
  • Behavior: It has a strike of 0.2 seconds, accelerating at up to 28 Gs. Vipers used to be considered as having the fastest strike, but that title is now held by the Texas rat snake according to the University of Louisiana.
  • Has a pretty limited range of just western Iran. So it loves dry, arid, desert-like, brushland with lots of rocky areas and caves to hide in.

Major Fact: False Promises

If you find yourself hiking in a middle eastern desert only to find a spider doing figure eights on a nearby rock, resist the urge to go and pet it. That’s no spider. It’s a moon… as in a backside… of a snake.

It’s a snake’s tail. Like rattlesnakes, the spider-tailed horned viper’s body comes to an interesting ending. Their tails sport more than just your typical tip. These horned vipers have a spikey looking body that ends in an even spikier tail. 

Looking at it while it’s motionless, the tip of the viper’s tail looks several spikes pointed outward, ending in a bulbous tip. It looks like some exotic fruit is this snake’s butt ornament. 

But when it starts moving it like an expert fly fisherman back and forth, it looks like some insect frantically moving about. Even me, a big-brained human with color vision can’t help but see it as some arthropod skittering around on a rock. 

The viper has a taste for that sweet sweet air candy. Birds are their preferred meal and other snakes may have trouble scoring such a poultry prize. But the spider-tailed viper has a two-part tantalizing tactic. 

First of all, they have excellent camouflage, both their coloration and the texture of their skin makes them blend into rocky desert environments. They set up base camp in insectivorous bird territory and wait for a hapless victim.  

Next, they expose their tail and rack it along the ground as if it’s a spider crawling on the rock, exposed to birdly predation. 

The birds, who are desperately trying to feed their chicks, can’t help but go after every arthropod they can manage to bring back. I saw a video of a bird that was so enamored with the tail and so blind to the body that it landed on the snake’s head. The snake moved slightly, which startled the bird. Still, the bird took the bait so relentlessly that she repositioned and went after the spider-tail again, only to be snatched by the viper’s venomous fangs.

Ending: So curl up under a rock, stick your tail out, and lure your prey with a tasty morsel like the spider-tailed horned viper here in LDT.

Episode 138 – Crab Spider: A Fantastic Floral Friend

“And today we’re talking about a spider that sat down beside a pretty flower, expertly showcasing a poetic light and dark juxtaposition. But more on that later.”

When your relatives have found a tried and true method of success, it may be hard to strike out on your own path in order to innovate. But innovation may lead to new interesting ways to achieve your goals. The crab spider does just that. They put on a colorful coat and venture off the beaten web. But this little arachnid faces challenges and vulnerabilities that her spider kin never encountered. Such is the nature of Life, Death, and Taxonomy.