Malpolon moilensis (REUSS, 1834)


Characteristics Corkill 1935: "The anal is paired. The ventrals number 159 to 176, the subcaudals 48 to 73 pairs and the dorsals
17 to the row. The limit of recorded length is 430 mm."

"Opisthoglyphous. Body is elongated and cylindrical. Eyes are relatively large with rounded pupils. Head is elongated and is distinct from the neck (Fig. 79). Snout protrudes over the mental and obtusely pointed. Rostral at least as deep as broad, wedged in between the internasals. Frontal as broad as the supraocular, twice as long as broad, its long as or a little longer than its distance from the end of the snout, as long as or a little longer than the parietals. Forehead is convex. One loreal, one or rarely two PO, two or three PtO. Temporals 1 + 2, 2 + 3 or 2 + 4. Seven to eight UL, the 4th and the 5th (or 3rd and 4th) enter the eye. Four or five LL in contact with the anterior chin shields (Fig. 81). Dorsal scales in 17 rows, VS 152 – 180, CS 48 – 73, scale smooth entirely. Anal divided. Table 19 shows scale counts and body measurements for Rhagerhis moilensis. Maximum length can reach up to 100 cm."(Amr and Disi 2011).

Picture from Amr & Disi 2011.

Here is a picture by Axel Marchélie:

Only in August 2014 I noticed something I had overlooked before: this animal has the ability to look backwards! Look at the picture:


Common Names E: Moila Snake
G: Moilanatter  
Black-headed Dwarf Snake, Palestine, Black-headed Snake.
Synonym Coluber moilensis REUSS 1834: 142
Coelopeltis producta GERVAIS 1857
Rhagerrhis moilensis - PETERS 1862 (according to the Reptile Database) (see note)
Rhagerrhis producta - SCLATER 1891:26
Coelopeltis producta - WERNER 1894: 85
Coelopeltis moilensis - BOULENGER 1896
Malpolon moilensis - ARKER 1931: 522
Coelopeltis moilensis - ANGEL 1932: 386
Malpolon moilensis - HAAS 1957: 80
Malpolon moilensis - MATTISON 1995: 221
Scutophis moilensis - BRANDSTÄTTER 1995
Malpolon moilensis - SCHLEICH, KÄSTLE & KABISCH 1996: 499
Scutophis moilensis - GENIEZ et al. 2004
Scutophis moilensis - SCHLÜTER 2005
Malpolon moilensis -TRAPE & MANÉ 2006
Scutophis moilensis - PADIAL 2006
Malpolon moilensis - LARGEN & SPAWLS 2010: 548  
Rhagerhis moilensis - BÖHME & DE PURY (2011) .
Malpolon moilensis - FIGUEROA E.A. 2016
Distribution Morocco, Western Sahara, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Israel, Sinai, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, SW Iran, Saudi Arabia, Oman, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait,
Mauritania, Niger, Mali, Sudan, Eritrea, Ghana ?

Type locality: Moilah (= Al Muwaylih), Saudi Arabia.   

Corkill 1935: "In the Sudan specimens have been secured from Dongola Province, Darfur Province and Khartoum Province."

Taxonomic status As one can see in the list of synonyms, this snake has had many names. Recently it was renamed to Rhagerhis moilensis, by Böhme & De Pury (2011). A molecular genetic study by Kelly e.a. in 2008 indicated for them that it forms a distinct clade. Diagnostic characters are: the structure of the skull, the possession of elongated neck ribs (longer than those of Malpolon of equal size) and the unique microdermatoglyphic pattern of the dorsal scales as described by Brandstätter 1995. See Böhme & De Pury 2011. Unfortunately they misinterpreted the findings of Kelly 2008, and in 2016 the snake was brought back in the genus Malpolon by Figuerao e.a. (2016).


Trape & Mané 2015 on the snakes of Nigert:

Rhagerhis moilensis (Reuss, 1834)
Material: 18 specimens.
Localities: Aholé (4), Baboul (1), Chetimari (1), Cissia (6), Gari’n Bakwai (3, MNHN coll.), Kellé (1), Kusa (1), Tarka Dakouara (3), Tounga Yacouba (1).
Literature records: Between Aïr and Adrar (Angel and Lhote 1938); Gari’n Bakwai (Chirio and Ineich 1991,
as Rhamphiophis maradiensis); Termit (Dragesco-Joffé 1993); Aïr, Tamesna (Kriska 2001); Termit (Ineich et al. 2014).
Remarks: Chirio and Ineich (1991), when describing Rhamphiophis maradiensis on the basis of three specimens from Gari’n Bakwai near Maradi (Niger), unfortunately omitted to compare their new species with Rhagerhis moilensis. We have examined the types of Rhamphiophis maradiensis that are preserved in MNHN. We consider the two species to be synonymous as they have the same head shape, body color pattern, and meristic data. Ventral counts ranged from 166 to 172 in males and from 165 to 182 in females for our material from Niger. To facilitate further comparisons, our material is now deposited in MNHN.

Video Click here for a video of un unusual defensive behavior, as observed by León e.a..

And look in the list of videos on this site.

Reproduction Almost nothing is known about the reproduction of this snake, and nobody has been able to breed them in captivity up to now. Eggs from a wild caught female were however successfully incubated by Remco van Lijf in The Netherlands in 2013. See his short article.

"The authors recovered nine eggs from a female collected from Shawmar Wildlife Reserve. Females lay 4 – 18 eggs in July to August (Schleich et al., 1996)"

Food "In captivity, the Moila Snake fed readily on suckling mice. In North Africa, it feeds on a wide
variety of reptiles including lizards, geckos as well as other snakes, birds and rodents (Schleich et al., 1996)." (Amr &n Disi 2011)
This was also the experience of other keepers. See captive care..
Captive care


  • Reuss, A. 1834. Zoologische Miscellen. Reptilien, Ophidier. Mus. Senckenbergiana, Frankfurt/M., 1: 129-162.
  • Gervais, PAUL 1857. Ophidiens de l'Algérie. Mémoires de la section des sciences - Académie des sciences et lettres de Montpellier 3: 511-512
  • Peters, 1862.  Über die von dem so früh in Afrika verstorbenen Freiherrn von Barnim und Dr. Hartmann auf ihrer Reise durch Aegypten, Nubien und dem Sennâr gesammelten Amphibien. Monatsberichte der Königlich preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, vol. 1862, p. 271-279
  • Troschel, 1863. Bericht über die Leistungen in der Herpetologie während des Jahres 1863. Archiv für Naturgeschichte. Jrg. 29. Berlin, 1863.
  • Boettger, 1889.
    Dr. Oskar Boettger. Bericht über die Leistungen in der Herpetologie während des Jahres 1888. Archiv für Naturgeschichte. 55. Jhrg. Berlin, 1889.
  • Boulenger, George A. 1891. Catalogue of the reptiles and batrachians of Barbary (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia), based chiefly upon the notes and collections made in 1880-1884 by M. Fernand Lataste. Tr. Zool. Soc. 13: 93-164
  • Sclater 1891. Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. Vol. LX, Part II, No. II. - 1891. Edited by W. L. SCLATER (found on http://www.archive.org/stream/journalofasiatic601891asia/journalofasiatic601891asia_djvu.txt
  • Boulenger 1896. George Albert Boulenger. Catalogue of the Snakes In The British Museum (Natural History). Vol. III. London 1896. p. 143.
  • Werner, F. 1917. Reptilien aus Persien (Provinz Fars). Verhandlungen der Kaiserlich-Königlichen Zoologisch-Botanischen Gesellschaft in Wien, 67:191—220.
  • Werner 1919. Werner F. Wissenschaftliche Ergebnisse der mit Unterstützung der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien aus der Erbschaft Treitl von F. Werner unternommenen zoologischen Expedition nach dem anglo-Ägyptischen Sudan (Kordofan) 1914. Denkschriften Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien. Band 96. Wien 1919.
  • Parker,H.W. 1931. Some reptiles and amphibians from S.E. Arabia. Ann. Mag. nat. Hist. (10) 8: 514-522
  • Angel, M.F. 1932. Sur Quelques Reptiles et Batraciens du Sahara. Bull. Mus. Hist. Nat, Paris (Ser. 2) 4 (4): 385-387
  • Neave, 1940. NOMENCLÁTOR ZOOLOGICUS. A list of the names of genera and subgenera in Zoology from the tenth edition of Linnaeus 1758 to the end of 1935. Edited by Sheffield Airey Neave. Vol. 4. 1940.
  • Haas, Georg 1957. Some amphibians and reptiles from Arabia. Proc. Cal. Acad. Sci. 29 (3): 47-86
  • Werner, Y. L. 1971. Lizards and snakes from Transjordan, recently acquired by the British Museum (Natural Hisrory). Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History), Zoology21: 213-256.
  • Johann, H. 1981. Herpetologische Eindrücke auf einer Reise durch die Sahara. Herpetofauna 3 (13): 17-21
  • Werner,Y.L. 1988. Herpetofaunal survey of Israel (1950-1985), with comments on Sinai and Jordan and on zoogeographical heterogeneity. in: Yom-Tov,Y. & Tchernov, E. (eds.) The zoogeography of Israel, Dr. W. Junk Publishers, Dordrecht (Netherlands); ISBN 90-6193-650-0
  • Leviton,A.E.; Anderson,S.C.; Adler, K.; Minton,S.A. 1992. Handbook to Middle East Amphibians and Reptiles. SSAR, Oxford, Ohio (Contr. to Herpetol. No. 8), 1-252
  • Brandstätter, F., 1995. Eine Revision der Gattung Psammophis mit Berücksichtigung der Schwestergattungen innerhalb der Tribus Psammophiini (Colubridae: Lycodontinae). Teil 1: Die Gattungen und Arten der Tribus Psammophiini. Teil 2: Rasterelektronenmikroskopische Untersuchungen zur Schuppenultrastruktur bei den Arten der Tribus Psammophiini mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der Arten der Gattung Psammophis. Mathematik und Naturwissenschaften, Universität des Saarlandes, Saarbrücken, 480 pp.

  • Mattison, Chris 1995. The Encyclopedia of Snakes. New York: Facts on File, 256 pp.

  • Schleich,H.H., Kästle,W., Kabisch, K. 1996. Amphibians and Reptiles of North Africa. Koeltz, Koenigstein, 627 pp.
  • Kooij, Jeroen van der, 2001. The herpetofauna of the Sultanate of Oman: Part 4: The terrestrial snakes. Podarcis 2 (2): 54-64
  • Geniez, P.; Mateo, J.A.; Geniez, M. & Pether, J. 2004. The amphibians and reptiles of the Western Sahara (former Spanish Sahara) and adjacent regions. Edition Chimaira, Frankfurt, 228 pp. [reviewed in Reptilia GB 44: 81]
  • Broadley, D. G. (2005): Book review: The amphibians and reptiles of the Western Sahara. By P. Geniez, J.A. Mateo, M. Geniez and J. Pether. – African Journal of Herpetology, 54: 103–104.
  • De Haan, Cornelius C. 2006. Comments on maximum length in the Moila snake (Malpolon moilensis) and length dimorphism in the Montpellier snake (M. monspessulanus). Herpetological Review 37 (4): 405-406
  • Venchi, Alberto and Roberto Sindaco 2006. Annotated checklist of the reptiles of the Mediterranean countries, with keys to species identification. Part 2 -Snakes (Reptilia, Serpentes). Annali del Museo Civico di Storia Naturale "G. Doria", Genova, XCVIII: 259-364
  • Schlüter, U. 2006. Sandliebhaber - die psammophilen Nattern Nordafrikas. Reptilia (Münster) 11 (4): 72-80
  • Jongbloed, M. 2006. Field Guide to the reptiles and amphibians of the UAE - Wild about reptiles. ERWDA [year and publisher unclear; about 1999]
  • Trape, J.-F. & Mane, Y. 2006. Guide des serpents d’Afrique occidentale. Savane et désert. [Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger]. IRD Editions, Paris, 226 pp.
  • Mattison, Chris 2007. The New Encyclopedia of Snakes. Princeton University Press
  • Egan, D. 2007. Snakes of Arabia. Motivate Publishing, Dubai, 208 pp.
  • Joger, U. 2010. Projekt Dino: Auf Dinosaurierjagd in Niger, Afrika. Elaphe 18 (1): 6-13
  • Largen, M.J.; Spawls, S. 2010. Amphibians and Reptiles of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Edition Chimaira, Frankfurt, 694 pp.
  • Böhme, Wolfgang & Stéphanie de Pury, 2011. A note on the generic allocation of Coluber moilensis REUSS, 1834 (Serpentes: Psammophiidae). Salamandra 47(2): 120-123.
  • De Pury & Böhme 2013. Stéphanie de Pury & Wolfgang Böhme. A contribution to the understanding of the self-rubbing behaviour in psammophiid snakes (Squamata: Psammophiidae)
    SALAMANDRA 49(1) 18–30 30 April 2013 ISSN 0036–3375
  • Remco van Lijf, 2015. Some experiences with hatchlings of the Moila Snake (Rhagerhis moilensis). Published on this website.

See http://eol.org/pages/458361/overview for an overview of the genus.

Rhagerhis or Rhagerrhis?

.According to the Reptile Database, Peters called this snake Rhagerrhis, date 1862. See:

Böhme & De Pury are of the opinion, that Peters used the name Ragerhis, just as Neave (1940, see the inserted picture:)

The opinion of Böhme and De Pury is supported by uBio (http://uio.mbl.edu/NZ/detail.php?uid=174233&d=1) :

Read further about this dispute.

Plate 40 from John Anderson's Zoology of Egypt (1898): Coelopeltis moilensis.


Photo by Remco van Lijf, 2015, see his article. Juveniles. Photo by Remco van Lijf, 2015, see his article. Juveniles.
Photo by Remco van Lijf, 2015, see his article. Juveniles. Photo by Remco van Lijf, 2015, see his article. Juveniles.
Sheddings of the smallest of my animals, apparently a male    

Gallery: click here

Scale counts

Scale counts of 4 specimens in captivity with Carlo Comazzi:


A short video from 2013 was repeated on Facebook in April 2018 by Wolfgang Wüster. I cite part of the discussion in this thread:

Thomas Hakansson
How do you know its mimicry? If you will indulge a potentially dumb question. If the snake is making a sound to scare predators why does it have to be mimicry? A lot of animals make surprising and startling sounds without necessarily mimicking a dangerous animal.

Akiva Topper
As far as I'm aware Rhagerhis moilensis lacks the morphological infrastructure to produce a rasping sound by scale-rubbing (i.e. pronounced keels and slanting rows of dorsal scales). The ostensible mimicry here is not of the sound but of the motion, which shouldn't in itself be startling.

Thomas Hakansson
Interesting. I used to keep insignicus many years ago but they were adults. They have grooved scales.

Wolfgang Wüster Admittedly it's hard to *know* that something is mimicry unless you can get evidence of predator avoidance of that feature. However, it's a very specific, distinctive and recognisable behaviour restricted to a few vipers and a very few colubrids - and in this case a sympatric one, so it's certainly highly plausible - even without the characteristic noise.

Gabri Mtnez
Yes. In that area of Africa moilensis meet Echis so probably they use same defensive movements to simulate that is the viper. But morphologycally it imitate the cobra. Other snake of the area that meet Echis in Senegal and probably Mauritania, Dasypeltis sahelensis, imitate the behavior and also develop scales to make the sound (although I also see it in South Africa individuals of scabra). Look like a venomous snake can save your life for sure..

Wolfgang Wüster It actually looks quite convincingly viper-like in that video. It's a much more convincing as a viper there than it is as a cobra!

Gergely Babocsay
Although if you look at it there is some flicker-fusion effect too it may be a combination of mimicry and confusing. Interestinly in Echis coloratus the somewhat longer males have more dorsal blotches, as if the highher number was to compensate for the longer body to maintain critical flicker frequency.

Gabri Mtnez
Yes Wolfgang, making that movements look an Echis. But most of the times before make that behavior Rhagerhis try to escape and spread the hood while it's moving, exactly like Notechis and Naja individuals (the difference is that if the snake can't escape, naja adopt the cobra pose like Rhinkals, Aspidelaps or Ophiophagus while the "false cobras" just stand in mid pose like Notechis or rub scales like moilensis). I have photos of Daboia palestinae or Zamenis scalaris spreading a small hood trying to escape and that is also very interesting. probably snakes try to show a bigger head to persuade predators, not for imitating a cobra (¿?)