Discover the 10 Largest Spikey Snakes in the World

Written by Kellianne Matthews
Updated: November 11, 2022
Image Credit reptiles4all/Shutterstock.com
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Think You Know Snakes?

Since they first emerged on the earth millions of years ago, snakes have been evolving and adapting in all kinds of bizarre and curious ways. We often image snakes with long, smooth bodies, but there are also snakes with keeled or ridged scales and even some with sharp spikes!

Like mythical creatures from another age, these spikey snakes look like dragons and basilisks from legends and fairytales. Let’s take a look at the 10 largest spikey snakes in the world today.

10. Stiletto Snake (Atractaspis bibronii)

The venomous Bibron's Stiletto Snake. The entire body of the snake features a range of dark brown to black colors.
The venomous Bibron’s Stiletto Snake. The entire body of the snake features a range of dark brown to black colors.

NickEvansKZN/Shutterstock.com

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At first glance the Stiletto Snake may not look much like a “spikey” snake at all. This snake has a rather plain brown or black body with smooth scales. Stiletto snakes are also small, averaging around 12-16 inches in length. However, don’t let their plain appearance fool you, because these snakes have a secret weapon: a very distinct and sharp spike at the end of their tails! Stilettos snakes use this spikey tip as a defense when they are threatened.

Stiletto snakes also have dangerous and toxic venom. Their long, protruding fangs act like an assassin’s stiletto dagger. And like a skilled assassin, these snakes can twist and strike quickly, often using even just one single fang.

9. Tai Hairy Bush Viper (Atheris hirsuta)

Very few Tai Hairy Bush Vipers have been encountered by humans, and even fewer have been photographed. If you want to see what one looks like, the second known specimen was photographed in 2009 and published in a research publication.

These rare, spikey snakes have only been seen in the Ivory Coast, within the Tai National Park. Tai hairy bush vipers have small heads with short, blunt snouts and enormous, yellowish eyes. Their bodies are medium brown or bronze, with dark speckles and splotches and extremely keeled scales that make the snakes look prickly or even “hairy”. In fact, the snakes’ scientific name, hirsutus, actually means “hairy”.

8. Many-Horned Adder (Bitis cornuta)

Many horned adder Bitis cornuta
Many-Horned Adders live in desert areas, and use sidewinding movements to protect their bodies from the hot sand.

Chantelle Bosch/Shutterstock.com

The Many-Horned Adder is the eighth largest spikey snake in the world and lives along the coast of South Africa. These snakes typically grow between 12-20 inches in length, with reddish-brown, brown, or grey bodies and geometric patterns. Their name comes from the clusters of spikey scales that protrude above each eye like a group of horns.

Many-horned adders are ambush predators that hide by burying their bodies under the sand. These snakes are nervous and can become easily agitated, hissing loudly, and striking so energetically that sometimes their entire body may spring off the ground.

7. Spider-Tailed Horned Viper (Pseudocerastes urarachnoides)

The spider-tailed horned viper (Pseudocerastes urarachnoides) has a unique tail that has a bulb-like end and that is used to catch birds. It lives in Iran.
The spider-tailed horned viper (Pseudocerastes urarachnoides) has a unique tail that has a bulb-like end and that is used to catch birds. It lives in Iran.

reptiles4all/Shutterstock.com

Growing around 20 inches in length, the Spider-Tailed Horned Viper is a medium-sized snake with an extremely unusual tail. The tip of the snake’s tail bulges out like a bulb, with slender spikey scales that fall to each side like long spider legs. When the spider-tailed horned viper waves and twitches this distinctive tail tip, it looks like a dancing spider and lures birds closer to the snake. The birds never see the snake because of its cryptic colorations. When a bird gets close enough, however, the snake springs up and attacks.

6. Usambara Bush Viper (Atheris ceratophora)

Like its name, the Usambara Bush Viper lives in Tanzania’s Usambara and Uzyngwe Mountains. Usambara bush vipers can grow up to 21 inches in length with yellow-green, olive, or yellow bodies. Their scales are highly keeled and pointed, and some snakes have black spots and speckles across their bristly backs. Usambara bush vipers are also called Eyelash Bush Vipers because of the unique, spikey scales that protrude diagonally above their eyes like thorny eyelashes. These snakes are rare and vulnerable to extinction. Their fragmented habitats suffer from deforestation, agriculture, and human expansion.

5. Horned Viper (Cerastes cerastes)

horned viper in sand
The horns over the eyes are the most distinctive feature of the horned viper.

iStock.com/bogdanhoria

The fifth-largest spikey snake in the world is the Horned Viper. This snake typically measures between 12-24 inches, although some snakes may grow up to 33 inches at the very most. Many horned vipers have a pair of formidable-looking spikes that stick straight up behind each of their eyes, which is where they get their name from.

Some historians believe that the horned viper was the inspiration behind the mythical Greek monster, Cerastes. Cerastes was a giant serpent that hid its large body beneath the desert sand and used its large horns to lure humans to an unfortunate demise. Like Cerastes, today’s horned vipers also hide beneath the desert sand in the Middle East and Northern Africa, exposing only their heads as they wait to ambush unsuspecting prey.

4. Variable Bush Viper (Atheris squamigera)

Bush Viper
Variable Bush Vipers have dark skin with lighter scales, giving their leaf-like scales a more defined appearance.

Mark_Kostich/Shutterstock.com

West and Central Africa is home to the fourth largest spikey snake on this list: the Variable Bush Viper. This snake is also known as the Green Bush Viper, Common Bush Viper, or Leaf Viper. Measuring between 18-26 inches in length, variable bush vipers look like miniature spikey dragons. Their highly keeled scales are shaped like pointed leaves and come in a wide variety of colorations like yellow, orange, red, blue, slate gray, olive green, and black.

Variable bush vipers mostly live in thick rainforests where they spend much of their lives in bushes and in trees. These stunning snakes have very strong, prehensile tails that can support their entire body weight as they hang from branches to rest or ambush prey.

3. West African Bush Viper (Atheris chlorechis)

The world’s third largest spikey snake, the West African Bush Viper, also lives in West Africa. This venomous snake grows between 20-28 inches long with light green scales and light-yellow spots scattered across its back. Its scales are shaped like teardrops or leaves and are keeled with textured ridges. West African bush vipers have slim and long bodies, with broad, heart-shaped heads and large golden eyes.

When they are first born, baby West African bush vipers are brown or tan. However, within the first 24 hours of life their scales transition to a yellow-green color with dark spots. As they age, this coloration switches, resulting in green adult snakes with light-yellow spots.

2. Spiny Bush Viper (Atheris hispida)

hairy bush viper
The hairy bush viper (Atheris hispida) is endemic to Central Africa.

reptiles4all/Shutterstock.com

It would be easy to mistake the Spiny Bush Viper for a real-life dragon. This snake is plastered with slightly raised, spikey scales all along its body, although the scales around its head and face are the longest and bristliest. The snake has a broad head with a short snout and very large, charismatic eyes, adding to its dragon-like appearance.

Spiny bush vipers come in a wide variety of colors like green, olive, bluish, yellow, and brown. Some snakes also have darker speckles or blotches. Their bodies grow between 23-29 inches in length and end with a white or cream-colored, prehensile tail. These tails are especially useful when hanging onto tall tree branches in Central Africa’s rainforests.

1.      Horned Sea Snake (Hydrophis peronii)

The largest spikey snake in the world is the Horned Sea Snake. These extremely venomous snakes can grow up to four feet in length, and live in tropical areas of the Pacific Ocean, often in coral reefs and sandy seabeds. Horned sea snakes spend their entire lives in the water and have vertically flattened paddle-shaped tails for swimming.

Not only are horned sea snakes spikey, but they are the only species of sea snake with spikes on their heads! Unique raised scales protrude above each of the snakes’ eyes and around their faces like tiny, armored spikes. Their bodies are colored with a mixture of tan, pale olive, and gray, with darker crossbands or blotches.

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Hairy bush viper

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About the Author

I have been a professional writer for 8 years with a particular focus on nature, wildlife, anthrozoology, and human-animal relationships. My areas of interest include human-animal studies, ecocriticism, vulnerable species, pets, and animal behavior. I graduated from Brigham Young University with a master’s degree in Comparative Studies, focusing on the relationship between humanity and the natural world. In my spare time, I enjoy exploring the outdoors, watching movies, reading, creating art, and caring for my pets. Nothing brings me greater joy than a day spent in the company of animals.

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