As if snakes weren’t scary enough on their own, some apparently have spiders for tails to raise the horror factor to infinity . The aptly named ‘spider-tailed viper’ has a bizarre arachnid-shaped appendage that it uses to attract unsuspecting prey.
According to science writer Ed Yong, the fearsome snake was formally described only nine years ago, in Iran. Its existence has been known since the sixties, but because only one specimen had been spotted, its tail was dismissed as a deformity. However, further investigations in the area revealed the tail was actually a defining characteristic of a whole new species of snakes.
Photo: Omid Mozaffari
“The tail is bizarre,” Yong wrote on his National Geographic blog. “There’s a large orange or grey bulb at the tip, and the scales just before that are bizarrely long and thin. Together, these features look a bit like the legs and abdomen of a spider or their close relatives.” If you watch a video of the viper shaking its tail rapidly, it looks exactly like a moving spider.
Photo via Snakes Are Long
Yong further explains that the viper uses its tail as a lure, like a fisherman’s fly. “By resembling a tasty morsel, it draws potential prey into the snake’s striking range,” he wrote. The theory was tested by placing a chicken in the snake’s enclosure. As expected, the chick was attracted by the knob-like structure which it mistook for a delicious insect. As it went towards the tail and pecked it, the snake pulled the tail towards itself, and bit the bird in less than half a second. The experiment was repeated with a sparrow and yielded the same result.
Photo: Alireza Shahrdari
The tail itself doesn’t seem venomous or capable of inflicting any harm, so it’s most likely an evolutionary development designed purely to lure prey. Or, and I’m just speculating here, it could be the result of a Jurassic Park-style science experiment gone horribly wrong. Who knows?
Unless you live in the Western part of Iran, you probably needn’t worry about bumping into one of these nightmarish creatures, but luckily we have some video footage of the using their spider tails to lure birds in the wild. Fascinating stuff!