So, you’re wondering about venomous snakes in Egypt? We’re tempted to say forget about it and concentrate on booking your tours of the UNESCO-tagged Giza Pyramids, those unforgettable Nile River cruises, and trips to the shimmering waters of the Red Sea. Then again, there are some pretty formidable snakes in these parts, so it might just pay to be aware and prepared…
Cue this guide. It runs through five of the most feared, the most formidable serpents that currently make their home in the land of Tutankhamun and the Valley of the Kings. The focus is on the ones with the worst venom; the snakes that can kill a human in just a matter of hours. You know, the sort of creatures you definitely do not want to come across on a tour of northeastern Africa.
The good news is that even with these fear-inducing animals on the roster, Egypt doesn’t see all that many snakebites each year. What’s more, it’s VERY rare for travelers to fall prey to snakes, since most attacks on humans occur in rural settings where certain species can get close to permeant dwellings, not in the big resorts of Hurghada and Sharm, or in sprawling cities like Alexandria and Cairo.
Egyptian saw-scaled viper (Echis pyramidum)
The Egyptian saw-scaled viper has the dubious honor of being hailed as the single most venomous snake in the whole country. More than that, they’re also considered one of the deadliest snakes on the planet, and, together with their closely related viper cousins, cause some of the highest rates of snakebite death on the globe. They aren’t the creatures you’ll want to come across as you tour the Pyramids of Giza or the looming temples of Luxor!
Also sometimes known as the carpet viper, the Egyptian saw-scaled viper can grow to anything between 50cm and one meter in length at full adulthood. It’s got a muted beige and brown color scheme that helps it blend in imperceptibly with the sandy deserts of North Africa, and a distinctly triangular head shape up top.
The reason you’ll need to keep watch for them is an uber-potent venom cocktail that includes four constituent parts. There are neurotoxins that shut down the nervous system. It’s got hemotoxins that cause severe bleeding and hemorrhaging. There are cytotoxins that kill cell tissue. And there are cardiotoxins that interrupt the proper running of the heart. Not nice. Not nice at all.
Egyptian cobra (Naja haje)
Ancient historians, from Plutarch to Strabo, tell the story of how it was the Egyptian cobra that delivered the fatal bite to Cleopatra when she committed suicide back in 30 BC. True or not, the tale highlights how the snake that ended the life of the queen of the Ptolemaic Kingdom is surely up there with the most venous snakes in Egypt today…
They possess a venom that mixes cytotoxins and neurotoxins to powerful effect. Being bitten can quickly lead to severe swelling, redness, soreness at the site of contact, and, eventually, complete necrosis and decay of the flesh around the place where the fangs went in. More generally, the poison can hinder the ability of the nervous system to work at all, and even cause complete cardiac arrest leading to death.
Despite the name, these guys can actually be found across the whole of North Africa. They reside under the dusty ridges of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, throughout the shifting dunes of Algeria, and, of course, all the way throughout Egypt itself. Their range also runs southwards into sub-Saharan Africa, though the specimens there tend to be less venomous overall.
Saharan horned viper (Cerastes cerastes)
The Saharan horned viper, also known as the desert horned viper, is a common snake across the whole of North Africa. It has a range that extends from the borderlands of Egypt and Sudan right the way up the shorelines of the Levant to Lebanon and even into Iraq and Iran. The local name in the land of the pyramids is el-torisha, and you’ll want to memorize that, so you know to get out of the way if someone shouts it!
Why? Well, just like all vipers anywhere on the globe, this one is venomous. It possesses a highly potent mix of toxins that primarily cause issues with the proper flowing of the blood, leading to excessive hemorrhaging and wildly fluctuating blood pressure. They are also capable of delivering high venom yields in a single bite, so you don’t need to be in contact for very long for the damage to be done.
Horned vipers are right at home in sandy environments. They have developed a unique sidewinding motion to help them move swiftly over sand hills, leaving squiggly S marks in the ground behind them. They’ve also adapted to have excellent camouflage, what with a beige and yellowish tint to their whole body. Really, the most discerning feature is the duo of spiked horns that top the front of the head.
Black desert cobra (Walterinnesia aegyptia)
The black desert cobra really does live up to its name. The snake is jet-black and glossy the whole way up and down the body. It can grow to about 1.2 meters and sports a blunt snout and small head. It’s technically not a cobra at all, but a branch of the same tree of snake species known as elapids. It is, however, just as deadly as its similarly named cousins – or even deadlier!
Yep, the venom hidden within the fangs of this slider is thought to be even more fatal to humans than that of the Indian cobra. That’s mainly down to the amount that’s injected into victims during an average bite incident. If you do fall prey, then expect whole-body symptoms that include disruption of the nervous system and eventual death.
Also true to their name, these guys reside primarily in the deserts of the Middle East. They are known to be present in the Sinai Peninsula of northern Egypt, but are actually more commonly spotted across the border in Jordan and southern Israel.
Red spitting cobra (Naja pallida)
Red spitting cobras can hit over 1.2 meters in length and sport a whole range of color schemes, from musty red all the way up and down the body to alternating strips of pink and black from snout to tail. They are venomous when they bite, but the real reason they deserve a place on this list of the most venomous snakes in Egypt is because they don’t even need to get close to do the damage…
Nope, just as the name implies, this one can project its venom at unsuspecting prey from a distance. They can spit a whopping eight foot in all, meaning anything within the length of one human is well within the danger zone. Thankfully, projected venom rarely does as much damage as injected venom, although there have been cases of people dying from anaphylactic shock after being hit with the airborne stuff.
These guys are closely related to a whole bunch of other cobra species that live all over Egypt. Their particular range means that they can be found all across East Africa, up the Horn of Africa, and as far south as Tanzania. They prefer dry and arid habitats under 1,000 meters above sea level but often reside close to major freshwater sources.
Venomous snakes in Egypt – our conclusion
There are loads of venomous snakes in Egypt that travelers should know about. From the sidewinding horned viper that lives in the sun-scorched deserts to the legendary Egyptian cobra that is said to have been the snake that killed Queen Cleopatra herself some 2,000 years ago, the country certainly has its fair share of dangerous serpents.
The good news is that snakebites aren’t all that common here. Egypt isn’t even in the top five countries with the highest rates of bites per year (India wins that, with a whopping 81,000 incidents!). What’s more, most of the snakes listed above aren’t commonly seen in the major tourist areas. That means you’re not very likely to spot them when touring the history complexes of the Valley of the Kings et al.
Are there venomous snakes in Egypt?
Yes. Egypt has quite a few venomous snakes. Most come from one of two distinct branches of snakes, either elapids (also known as cobras) or vipers (all of which are venomous). Thankfully, it’s not very common to see venomous snakes in the more built-up parts of the country, such as in Cairo, Alexandria, or the popular sun and sand resorts of the Red Sea coast.
What’s the most venomous snake in Egypt?
The most venomous snake in Egypt is probably the Egyptian saw-scaled viper. Also known as the carpet viper or the desert carpet viper, these guys are thought to cause some of the highest rates of snakebites of any species on the planet each year. The venom of a female saw-scaled is twice as deadly as that of a male and the specimens found in North Africa are thought to be deadlier than those found further south in sub-Saharan Africa.