- Common names: saw-scaled vipers, carpet vipers.
Echis is a genus of venomous vipers found in the dry regions of Africa, the Middle East, Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka. They have a characteristic threat display, rubbing sections of their body together to produce a "sizzling" warning sound. The name Echis is a Greek word for "viper." Their common name is "saw-scaled vipers" and they include some of the species responsible for causing the most snakebite cases and deaths in the world. Eight species are currently recognized.
Saw-scaled vipers are relatively small snakes, the largest species (E. leucogaster, E. pyramidum) staying slightly below 90Â cm (35Â in) in total length (body + tail), and the smallest (E. hughesi, E. jogeri) being around 30Â cm (12Â in) in total length.
The head is relatively small and is short, wide, pear-shaped and distinct from the neck. The snout is short and rounded, while the eyes are relatively large and the body is moderately slender and cylindrical. The dorsal scales are mostly keeled. However, the scales on the lower flanks stick out at a distinct 45Â° angle and have a central ridge, or keel, that is serrated (hence the common name). The tail is short and the subcaudals are single.
A saw scaled viper of the genus Echis may be responsible for biblical claims of a fiery flying serpent.
Species of this genus are found in Pakistan, India (in rocky regions of Maharastra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Punjab) and Sri Lanka, parts of the Middle East, and Africa north of the equator.
All members of this genus have a distinctive threat display, which involves forming a series of parallel, C-shaped coils and rubbing them together to produce a sizzling sound, rather like water on a hot plate. The proper term for this is stridulation. As they become more agitated, this stridulating behavior becomes faster and louder. This display is thought to have evolved as a means of limiting water loss, such as might occur when hissing. However, some authors describe this display as being accompanied by loud hissing.
These snakes can be fierce and will strike from the position described above. When doing so, they may overbalance and end up moving towards their aggressor (an unusual behavior for snakes).
Little is known about the diets of some Echis species. For others, their diets are reported to be extremely varied, and may include items such as locusts, beetles, worms, slugs, spiders, scorpions, centipedes, solifugids, frogs, toads, reptiles (including other snakes), small mammals, and birds.
Most Echis species, such as those found in Africa, are oviparous, while others, such as those in India, are viviparous.
The venom of Echis species consists mostly of hemotoxin. The genus is recognized as medically significant in many tropical rural areas. They are widespread and live in areas lacking modern medical facilities. Most victims are bitten after dark when these snakes are active.
Venom toxicity varies among the different species, geographic locations, individual specimens, sexes, over the seasons, different milkings, and, of course, the method of injection (subcutaneous, intramuscular, or intravenous). Consequently, the LD50 values for Echis venoms differ significantly. In mice, the intravenous LD50 ranges from 2.3Â mg/kg (U.S. Navy, 1991) to 24.1Â mg/kg (Christensen, 1955) to 0.44-0.48Â mg/kg (Cloudsley-Thompson, 1988). In humans, the lethal dose is estimated to be 3â"5Â mg (Minton, 1967). Venom from females was more than twice as toxic on average than venom from males.
The amount of venom produced also varies. Reported yields include 20â"35Â mg of dried venom from specimens 41â"56Â cm in length, 6â"48Â mg (16Â mg average) from Iranian specimens and 13â"35Â mg of dried venom from animals from various other localities. Yield varies seasonally, as well as between the sexes: the most venom is produced during the summer months and males produce more than females.
*) Not including the nominate subspecies
T) Type species
Some sources also mention several other species:
- E. omanensis Babocsay, 2004, a new species found in the United Arab Emirates and east Oman
- E. khosatzkii Cherlin, 1990, found in Oman and Yemen, considered a synonym of E. pyramidum
- E. multisquamatus Cherlin, 1981, considered a subspecies here E. carinatus multisquamatus
- List of viperine species and subspecies
- Viperinae by common name
- Viperinae by taxonomic synonyms
- Echis at Herpbreeder.com. Accessed 9 September 2006.
- Echis photo gallery at Herpetology of Africa. Accessed 9 September 2006.
- Vipers of the genus Echis at TomÃ¡Å¡ Mazuch. Accessed 24 November 2007.
- Photograph of a bite to the leg inflicted by saw-scaled viper