The Natural Environment
Nature tour of the UAE
Wildlife in the UAE
Captive breeding of rare breeds
Whales and dolphins in the UAE
Scorpions and snakes
Ornithology in the UAE
Almost everybody knows what a scorpion looks
like even if they have never actually seen one. Many people fear scorpions
but in common with other venomous animals they normally avoid humans and
will only sting when threatened. Most stings occur when people inadvertently
come into contact with scorpions, particularly during camping trips, when
they are found hiding under rocks, stones, tents, clothing, debris and
Scorpions feed on insects and spiders and sometimes small vertebrates. Scorpions that have very large pincers do not always use their sting to kill prey, but may simply rely on the crushing power of their claws. An interesting phenomenon concerning scorpions is the fact that they fluoresce when exposed to ultra violet (UV) light. No-one knows why this happens; it is just a natural property of the cuticle. However, it provides an easy way of detecting scorpions and is used by biologists to estimate their numbers without having to capture them. It is also an effective way of avoiding scorpions when camping, although in some desert locations it is alarming to see just how many the UV light reveals!
Scorpion venom is a mixture of some of the most potent and biologically active compounds in the animal kingdom and scorpions should be treated with caution. Although a scorpion sting is frequently localised, some victims of stings may feel a sharp pain followed by numbness, drowsiness and an itching of the throat. This can be accompanied by excessive saliva and the tongue becomes sluggish with the jaw muscles contracted. If large amounts of venom have entered the blood system, difficulties in co-ordination arise and body temperature increases while the production of saliva and urine are reduced. Touch and sight can be affected, with sensitivity to strong light. There may also be haemorrhages and convulsions with increasing severity. Most victims are normally out of danger within three hours, but they should receive medical supervision for at least eight hours.
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A variety of snake species are found in the UAE, most are not venomous, unlike the horned viper (Cerastes cerastes gasperetii), which is similar in appearance to the false horned viper (Pseudocerastes persicus), and is often also referred to as the sand viper. Confusion arises because only some have horns. The horned viper reaches a length of about 85 centimetres, and has the typical stocky viper body, a very broad head with hinged teeth. Horned vipers also move in a side-winding manner in soft sand, which is their favoured habitat. Adapted to the open desert it is creamy-beige in colour, with darker blotches on its back. In the Emirates it is found in all the sandy deserts from the coast up to the mountain plains where there is virtually no shade available.
The horned viper is almost entirely nocturnal, spending the day under anything that provides a little shelter from the sun. If no shade is available, it buries itself in the sand by moving its ribs forward, and at the same time upward, causing the sand to be pushed to the side and allowing the otherwise motionless animal to sink below the surface in a manner reminiscent of a submerging submarine. Within a very short time nothing is visible but the eyes, which are set very high on top of the vipers head.
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