Snakes of Lebanon

Platyceps Najadum serpent rampant sur le sable
Platyceps najadum © Ramy Khashab

Snakes are superbly adapted for their life on the ground, crawling gracefully without a sound. Limbless, it is even difficult to distinguish still from moving individuals in the grass. Flexible, their body can curl up and squeeze into narrow openings, between stones, even follow rodents down their burrows in search of prey, or hideout. They can power along on the ground, in trees and, for some species, in water. Fierce predators they are very important in the ecosystem as they prey on rodents, insects, other reptiles and birds.

Red Whip Snake

Snakes (Suborder: Serpentes) are limbless, carnivorous squamates (Order Squamata like lizards), found almost everywhere in the world except the coldest regions. Snakes are mainly characterized by their elongated bodies, lack of eyelids or external ears, and mobile jaws (ligament-connected mandibles) covered with elastic skin allowing them to consume prey much bigger that their heads. Their size varies between 10 centimeters (Barbados Thread Snake) and 8 meters (Reticulated Python). People associate snakes with danger, but there are around 4000 known species of snakes in the world until this day, and around 600 of them are venomous, that is only 15%. Hence, one must learn how to distinguish between venomous and harmless snakes before trying to kill them, since they are important allies to moderate the population of mice and rats.

Snakes of Lebanon

Lebanon is home to 25 known species of snakes, 8 of them are venomous, and only three really dangerous for humans. Snakes of Lebanon belong to six families: Colubridae (17 species in Lebanon), Psammophiidae, Viperidae, Boidae, Micrelapidae, and Typhlopidae. Some of these species are common in a vast variety of habitats, whereas some others are adapted and restricted to a certain area such as semi-desert or rocky mountain heights. Most Lebanese snakes are oviparous (lay eggs) except for the Javelin Sand Boa (Eryx jaculus) and the Lebanon Viper (Montivipera bornmuelleri) which give birth to live young. Unfortunately, due to lack of awareness, snakes are killed in high numbers annually causing their numbers to decline.

For initiating people to cohabitation with snakes, we categorized snakes of Lebanon by their venom toxicity into three groups: non-venomous, mildly venomous and highly venomous.

Non-venomous Snakes

Families: Colubridae, Boidae, Typhlopidae – 17 species

You can contemplate the beauty of the snake way of life without any fear with these three families. But you need to be discrete since they are very fearful. Mostly all that one can see of them is a tail disappearing into the undergrowth.

In this category, all species lack venom glands and fangs. Instead, they use alternative defence mechanisms. Some mimic venomous snakes, others musk (they release a bad smell), use thanatosis behaviour (playing dead), and ultimately harmlessly bite. This category includes some of the most common species of Lebanese snakes.

Most common non-venomous species

The Large Whip Snake (Dolichophis jugularis) is the largest snake in Lebanon, reaching up to 3 meters long. It is a beautiful snake turning black when adult, able to climb walls to reach bird nests. They also feed on small rodents, killing their prey by constriction. Due to their fast metabolism (for a snake), they consumes more rodents than any other local snake making it a great pest control.

Juvenile Large Whip Snake hatch brown or grey with dark spots which help them camouflage while they are small and vulnerable. Their color darkens gradually as they exceed 1 meter in length.

© Ramy Khashab

Red Whip Snake (Platyceps collaris – previously Coluber rubriceps) is an agile snake found at lower elevations throughout Lebanon. It often inhabits grasslands, gardens and orchards rich in lizards and skinks on which they feed.

© Ramy Khashab

The aquatic Dice Snake (Natrix tessellata) is a slender-necked snake up to 140 cm that lives in the surroundings of ponds and other watering places. They are perfect swimmers and mainly feed on fish and amphibians. When they catch a frog, they hang it in their mouth and swallow it alive very slowly (it may take half an hour before the frog, still croaking, disappears in its throat).

© Ramy Khashab

The Coin-marked Snake (Hemorrhois nummifer) is commonly feared since it is confused with the Palestinian Viper. Indeed, it developed Batesian mimicry of such a highly venomous snake (see below).

© Ramy Khashab

Uncommon species

Some of the non-venomous snakes are restricted to a specific habitat and are quite uncommon in Lebanon like those that follow.

Dahl’s Whip Snake (Platyceps najadum – previously Coluber najadum) a less common, larger cousin of the Red Whip Snake (up to 140 cm) that inhabits dry stony places with bushes at elevations up to 2000 meter in the Northern parts of Lebanon.

Dahl’s Whip Snake © Ramy Khashab

The Spotted Whip Snake (Hemorrhous ravergieri)  is restricted to the high elevation arid parts of Mount Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon. Like it cousin the Coin-marked Snake, it mimics a venomous snake that shares the same habitat within Mount Lebanon, the Lebanon Viper (Montivipera bornmuelleri).

© Ramy Khashab

The Transcaucasian Rat Snake (Zamenis hohenackeri)  is a gentle, slow moving species found between 200 and 2500 meters asl. Unlike most snakes, this species prefer gloomy weather or dense tree cover to be active.

© Ramy Khashab

The Diadem Snake (Spalerosophis diadema) is the most recently recorded reptile species in Lebanon. It was only found in the semi-desert parts of Lebanon. Despite being considered a diurnal species, it is mostly active at night during the hot season.

© Ramy Khashab

One of the rarest and most understudied snakes in the region is the Levant Rat Snake (Elaphe druzei – previously Elaphe quatrolineata). It can live up to 2,500 m

© Ramy Khashab

Insectivorous snakes

This category also contains a group of small insectivorous snakes. It encompasses first five species of dwarf snakes (genus Eirenis).

Levantine Dwarf Snake (Eirenis levantinus) the most common and widely distributed species of dwarf snakes in Lebanon. It is mainly diurnal species that feeds on large insects including venomous centipedes (Scolopendra cingulata for example).

© Ramy Khashab

Spotted-striped Dwarf Snake (Eirenis lineomaculatus) is a small, heavily built dwarf snake species that feeds on arachnids such as scorpions of the genus Scorpio.

© Ramy Khashab

Narrow-striped Dwarf Snake (Eirenis decemlineatus) is the largest species of the genus Eirenis in the world. Two forms of the species are found within the same habitat, one with dark longitudinal lines and the other patternless (very pales lines).

Crowned Dwarf Snake (Eirenis coronella) is the least known species of Eirenis native to Lebanon. It is restricted to the semi-desert region in the Northern Bekaa. Here we can observe it in two different patterns.

© Ramy Khashab

Roth’s Dwarf Snake (Eirenis rothii) a small species with a relatively flat head adapted to its semi-fossorial lifestyle. The species is similar in coloration to the Levantine Dwarf Snake but mainly found in the southern parts of Lebanon.

© Ramy Khashab

And it should not be confused with the Black-headed Ground Snake (Rhynchocalamus melanocephalus), a small yellow snake with a shiny black head. This snake mainly feeds on soft, defenseless insect larva it finds under rocks.

Fossorial snakes

A third group gathers underground snakes, those which spend most of their time underground and are rarely seen on the surface.

The Javelin Sand Boa (Eryx jaculus) is a short muscular snake with a short neck, small head and an enlarged rostral shield made for digging. The species ambushes its food of lizards and rodents by burying itself underground while keeping its face on the surface waiting for a passing prey.

© Ramy Khashab

Syrian Blind Snake (Xerotyphlops syriacus) is a fully fossorial species that spends all its life undergrounds, hence, has vestigial eyes, blunt snout and smooth scales that help with movement underground. The species is often seen in ant colonies feeding on their larva.

© Ramy Khashab

Syrian Blind Snake (Xerotyphlops syriacus) emerging from the ground © Ramy Khashab

Mildly Venomous Snakes

Families: Psammophiidae, Colubridae, Micrelapidae – 5 species

Diurnal snakes

This category includes five “rear-fanged” species, which means that their fangs are located in the back of their mouth and secrete venom of relatively low toxicity.

The Eastern Montpellier Snake (Malpolon insignitus) inhabits almost all kinds of habitats up to 2000 meters asl and is known for feeding on other reptiles including venomous snakes.

This specimen is a male © Ramy Khashab

The agile Schokari Sand Racer (Psammophis schokari) is probably the fastest and most dynamic native snake with excellent eyesight used to find prey and spot threats. It is one of the least locally observed species of snakes with less than 10 records for Lebanon until this day.

© Ramy Khashab

Nocturnal snakes

The mildly venomous category also includes two nocturnal, closely related colubrids: the common Mediterranean Cat Snake (Telescopus fallax syriacus) and its semi-desert relative the Black-headed Cat Snake (Telescopus nigriceps) both of which primarily consume geckos and other lizards.

The Muller’s Snake (Micrelaps muelleri) is a small, and semi-fossorial snake. It can be easily recognized by its black and yellow banding.

© Ramy Khashab

Highly Venomous Snakes

Family: Viperidae – 3 species

All three highly venomous snakes of Lebanon belong to the viper family. A bite from any of them requires immediate hospitalization and, in rare cases, can be deadly. The vipers are mainly recognizable by their thickset body, short tail, keeled scales, and relatively triangular head due to the presence of venom glands in the cheek area.

The Blunt-nosed Viper (Macrovipera lebetina) is the largest of the three and it has the highest venom toxicity.

However, the reputation for the most dangerous Lebanese snake goes to the Palestinian Viper (Daboia palaestinae) due to its wide distribution, defensive personality, and curious nature that brings it closer to human residence in search for food. Its habitat encompasses oak forests, orchards and gardens. It is mostly active by night.

© Ramy Khashab

The third species is an endangered mountain snake endemic to the Levant: the Lebanon Mountain Viper (Montivipera bornmuelleri). It is the smallest of the three vipers, and the least dangerous to humans due to its limited distribution at high elevations with limited human activity.


Souad Hraoui-Bloquet, Riyad Sadek, Roberto Sindaco, & Alberto Venchi, “The herpetofauna of Lebanon: new data on distribution, Zoology in the Middle East, vol 27 (2002)

Souad Hraoui-Bloquet, Riyad Sadek, Walid Hleihel, Ziad Fajloun, “An ecological study of the Lebanon Mountain viper Montivipera Bornmuelleri (Werner, 1898) with a preliminary biochemical characterization of its venom,” Lebanese Science Journal, Vol. 13, No. 1 (2012)