4 Snakes that Look Like Dragons

Written by Brandi Allred
Published: April 12, 2022
Image Credit /Shutterstock.com
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Dragons have long held sway in popular culture. You can find them in everything from video games, to books, to movies, to children’s toys. But dragons aren’t real, right? Well, in the traditional sense, dragons are not real.

But what about snakes that look like dragons? It may sound like the stuff of fantasy novels, but it’s true—some snakes look uncannily similar to dragons. Dragons are known for their scaled bodies, wings, and fierce appearances. Depending on which type of dragon you’re looking at, it may have wings or breath fire. Our dragon-like snakes don’t do that, but their appearances are sure to leave you wondering whether or not they just might have a little dragon in them.

Here, we’ll learn about four species of snakes that look like dragons. Each species has its special attributes, but only number one can truly be called the dragon snake. Keep reading for a deeper look into four dragon-like snakes. We’ll learn more about where they live, whether or not they’re venomous, what they eat, and whether or not you can take one home as a pet.

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4. Desert Horned Viper (Cerastes cerastes)

sahara horned viper
Desert horned vipers move across the desert sands in a motion called ‘sidewinding.’

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Horned vipers are also known as Saharan horned vipers. Desert horned vipers live in the deserts of northern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. They’re members of the Viperidae family of snakes, along with rattlesnakes and adders. Like all vipers, they’re highly venomous and can deliver a killing bite. 

Desert horned vipers have thick, sand-colored scales that stand out from their bodies like the scales of a dragon. But, what makes them look even more like dragons are the ‘horns’ above their eyes. These snakes don’t just have the scales of dragons; they have the horns too.

3. Spiny Bush Viper (Atheris hispida)

hairy bush viper
One of the smallest members of the viper family, the spiny bush viper grows to a maximum length of about 30 inches.

reptiles4all/Shutterstock.com

Spiny bush vipers, also known as hairy bush vipers or rough-scaled bush vipers, are one of the most dragon-like snakes out there. These snakes live in the rainforests of central Africa. They spend most of their time in the trees, hunting for small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and occasionally birds. Just like desert horned vipers, they’re members of the Viperidae family and have neurotoxic venom.

Spiny bush vipers are snakes that look like dragons, but why? It all starts with the head. Spiny bush vipers have extremely sharp scales that end in a wicked sharp point. These scales are largest at their head and neck. But, the scales don’t lie flat like they do in other snakes.

Spiny bush vipers get their name from the way their sharp scales stand up from their body, like a hedgehog. They may not be large, growing to a maximum length of 30 inches, but spiny bush vipers don’t need to be big to look like dragons. Along with their fearsome scales, they have large eyes with vertically elliptical pupils. 

2. Green Bush Viper (Atheris Squamigera)

Green Bush Viper
Green bush vipers are closely related to spiny bush vipers. They’re both species of the Atheris genus.

Will E. Davis/Shutterstock.com

Green bush vipers are also known as African bush vipers, leaf vipers, Hallowell’s green tree vipers, or variable bush vipers. They live in central and west Africa and spend most of their lives in low bushes and foliage. While not quite as prickly as the spiny bush viper, the green bush viper certainly earns its place on our list of snakes that look like dragons.

Like the spiny bush viper, the green bush viper has sharp scales that jut out from its body. However, this species’ true hallmark comes from its extraordinary color variation. Green bush vipers are not always green; they may be bluish, olive-brown, dark green, or even red, yellow, or gray.

As members of the Viperidae family, green bush vipers have vertically elliptical eyes (like cats) and potent hemotoxic venom. They’re slender and grow to around 30 inches long. Unlike the spiny bush viper, which eats just about anything, the green bush viper eats mostly small mammals. Males are smaller than females, who give birth to live young rather than laying eggs.

1. Dragon Snake (Xenodermus javanicus)

Weirdest Snakes - Dragon Snake
Dragon snakes are the only species in the genus Xenodermus.

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Number one on our list of snakes that look like dragons is the aptly named dragon snake (Xenodermus javanicus). Dragon snakes are also known as rough-backed litter snakes, Javan mudsnakes, or Javan tubercle snakes. Dragon snakes live in Malaysia and Thailand, and some parts of Sumatra, Java, and Borneo. They make their home near water in swamps, forests, or rice fields. 

But why are dragon snakes called dragon snakes? Out of all the snakes in the world, they are the only species to have lines of ridged scales down the length of their bodies. When threatened, their whole bodies go stiff, making the scales stand out even more. No other snake species looks quite so much like a dragon as the dragon snake.

Are Dragon Snakes Venomous?

Thin-bodied and graceful, these dark snakes have no venom. So, even if one did bite a human, it wouldn’t do much damage. Dragon snakes are small, under two feet long, and eat mostly small fish, tadpoles, and frogs.

Can a Dragon Snake be a Pet?

Unfortunately for snake enthusiasts, dragon snakes have never been successfully kept as pets. Captured specimens often die within a few weeks of confinement. So, for the time being, any glimpse of the dragon snake must occur in the wild.

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