Many impressive and terrifying horned serpents and snakes slither through the stories and myths in ancient cultures. From the Native American horned serpent to the Celtic ram-horned snake, the Lagarfljót Worm in Iceland, the Norse Lindworm, and the Cerastes of Greek Mythology, snakes with horns seem to be a common theme in stories told all over the world.
While these mythological creatures may seem over-the-top and fantastical, there are actually some very real snakes with horns that live in the natural world today. The “horns” on these snakes are made of unique scales that are often clustered together, or stand alone as a single spike that protrudes from the snake’s head. Let’s take a closer look at 13 snakes with horns!
1. Horned Puff Adder (Bitis caudalis)
The horned puff adder lives in South Africa, typically in deserts with light vegetation. This venomous snake gets its name from the prominent horns sticking out above each of its large, cat-like eyes. The horned puff adder may look like a menacing desert dragon, but this small snake only grows between 12-15 inches long. These snakes come in a wide variety of colors depending on the environment they live in. The color of their bodies matches the sand around them, and their large scales are sprinkled with small, colored specks.
This camouflage coloring helps the horned adder to skillfully blend into its surroundings. This is especially useful during the day when the snake is resting in the shade of large rocks or vegetation. When hunting, horned puff adders bury their bodies under the loose sand, exposing only their eyes and tall, ominous-looking horns as they wait for prey animals to draw near.
2. Nose-Horned Viper (Vipera ammodytes)
Like its name, the nose-horned viper has a large scaly “horn” on the tip of its nose, usually around ¼ of an inch long. These snakes live in temperate habitats in Europe and grow between 30-36 inches in length. Nose-horned vipers prefer living on the edges of forests and shrublands, and along rocky hillsides. These snakes have large fangs that can grow up to ½ inch, with toxic venom. However, the nose-horned viper is not known to be aggressive, and very few humans have perished from its bite.
Male nose-horned vipers have brown or gray bodies with dark zigzag patterns running down the middle of their backs. Their heads are marked with a black V-shape pattern and a black stripe near each eye. Female nose-horned vipers have similar coloring, but they lack the V-shape marking on the head, and they have less distinct patterns.
3. Matilda’s Horned Viper (Atheris matildae)
The Matilda’s Horned Viper lives in southwestern Tanzania, where it was first discovered in 2011. This colorful snake has strongly keeled or ridged scales, with striking bright yellow and black patterns. Matilda’s horned vipers also have large heads with 2-3 distinct hornlike scales protruding just above each of their piercing green eyes. They are nocturnal, arboreal snakes that live primarily in forest trees.
4. West African Gaboon Viper (Bitis rhinoceros)
The West African gaboon viper has a large, thick body that can grow more than 6 feet long and weigh more than 45 pounds! This big beauty also has a large head shaped like a flattened triangle, with a gnarly set of horns on its nose. These two large nasal scales jut out of the end of the snake’s nose and curl back toward its head. Its horns look almost like smoke curling from the nostrils of a fire-breathing dragon!
The West African gaboon viper lives in woodlands and rainforests in West Africa, where it spends its days lazily basking on the forest floor. This snake has brown, tan, and black geometrical markings that create the perfect camouflage, allowing it to peacefully rest in leaf litter and forest debris unseen. The West African gaboon viper is an ambush predator. This snake waits quietly for potential prey animals to walk by before it attacks. Although it is venomous, this snake is very calm and rarely bites.
5. Lataste’s Viper (Vipera latasti)
The Lataste’s viper is a master of camouflage in the snake world. This snake has a grey, light brown, or tan body with a dark zigzagging stripe that runs along the middle of its back, and smaller spots along its sides. It has a large, triangular head with a curved horn on the end of its snout. The Lataste’s viper is endemic to southwestern Europe and northwestern Africa. However, its populations are fragmented, and it is a vulnerable species on the IUCN’s Red List. Lataste’s vipers prefer moist habitats and rocky areas. However, some also live in drier woodland and scrubland habitats, stone walls, and coastal dunes. This snake has a hemotoxic venom that disrupts red blood cells and causes damage to organs and tissues.
6. Rhinoceros Viper or Butterfly Viper (Bitis nasicornis)
The rhinoceros viper, also known as the butterfly viper, is a large and beautifully colored snake in Central and West Africa. This snake has a pattern similar to the West African gaboon viper, but with spectacularly striking colors of blue, green, red, yellow, and black. Its unique colors and patterns allow the rhinoceros viper to blend into the dappled lighting and colorful leaf litter of the forest floor. The top of its large triangular head has a black arrowhead-shaped mark, and there are 2-3 pairs of horns on its nose. It is common for one of these hornlike scales to be noticeably longer than the others like a large, dramatic spike coming out of the snake’s snout.
Rhinoceros vipers have large bodies that grow between 28-35 inches and keeled scales that add a very rough texture to the snake’s body. This beautiful snake has substantial amounts of hemotoxic and neurotoxic venom that it uses to hunt rodents, fish, and frogs. Despite its enormous size and dangerous venom, however, the rhinoceros viper is generally a calm snake and rarely bites humans.
7. Madagascan Langaha or Leaf-Nosed Snake (Langaha madagascariensis)
The Madagascan langaha has a head unlike any other—instead of having a horn on its snout, its entire snout forms one single horn! Male snakes are brown in color, with a flat head and elongated snout that tapers into a pointed horn. Female snakes, on the other hand, are a mottled grey color. Their snouts are long and flat, shaped like a jagged-edged leaf. Both males and females have long, slender bodies around 30-36 inches in length that make these snakes look like long twigs or skinny tree branches. Madagascan langaha snakes are an endemic species that only live in Madagascar. These snakes lives in rainforests and deciduous forests where they hang from trees as they hunt and eat lizards. They are venomous, but not deadly to humans.
8. Many-Horned Adder (Bitis cornuta)
Like its name, the many-horned adder has a lot of horns. There are several raised scales above each of the snake’s large coppery eyes that culminate in 2-5 horn-like scales protruding up and out like feathered fans. These snakes are grey, brown, or reddish-brown, with dark rectangular-like blotches running along the length of their heavily keeled bodies. The many-horned adder is a venomous pit viper that lives in the rocky deserts of South Africa’s Atlantic coastal regions. To protect their bodies from the heat of the desert’s sands, these snakes use a sidewinding motion, where only a part of their bodies touch the ground at one time.
Many-horned adders also bury themselves in the sand as they wait to strike reptiles and rodents that might pass by. These snakes are fast and can actively hunt their prey as well. Many-horned adders are anxious snakes and will hiss loudly and vigorously strike when they feel threatened. In fact, these snakes put so much energy into their defensive attacks that nearly their entire body lifts off the ground when they strike!
9. Sidewinder Rattlesnake (Crotalus cerastes)
The sidewinder rattlesnake is a venomous pit viper that is perfectly adapted for living in sandy deserts. This snake is often a creamy color, speckled with numerous small, dark spots and blotches that make it look identical to its desert surroundings. Sidewinder rattlesnakes also have several upturned scales above each of their eyes like horns. Because of this, sidewinder rattlesnakes are also called horned rattlesnakes. Although we do not know exactly why these scales exist, it is likely that their “horns” protect the snake’s eyes from the sun and sand. Sidewinder rattlesnakes can move faster than any other species of snake. They move in a “sidewinding” motion across loose desert sands and can go as fast as 18 miles an hour! These snakes grow between 20-32 inches in length and leave behind distinctive “J”-shaped indentations in the sand as they travel.
10. Tentacle Snake (Erpeton tentaculatum)
The tentacle snake has some of the most unique horns in the snake world, shaped like two tentacles protruding from the snake’s snout. Scientists do not know the exact function of these scaly tentacles. However, these tentacle-horns may possibly help the snake to detect movement in the water, attract prey, or assist as part of its cryptic camouflage. Tentacle snakes are aquatic and live in freshwater, saltwater, or brackish waters in southeastern Asia. They are found in habitats with slow-moving water, like streams, rice paddies, and lakes. They are venomous and primarily eat fish. Tentacle snakes grow between 20-35 inches in length with brown, light tan, or dark gray bodies. They are narrow and flat and have roughly keeled scales. This unique appearance makes the snake look like a submerged twig in murky water.
11. Persian Horned Viper (Pseudocerastes persicus)
The Persian horned viper is an endemic snake species that only lives in Asia and the Middle East. This snake grows between 16-28 inches on average, with a large, flattened head and a short, rounded snout. The two “horns” that adorn the snake’s face are made of small, overlapping scales, clustered above each eye. Persian horned vipers are typically grey, pale grey, or blueish grey, with darker grey or brown crossbands or blotches along the length of their bodies, and smaller spots along their sides. Most snakes have a dark line on either side of their face. The tip of their tail is also dark. Persian vipers are venomous snakes that eat small mammals and lizards. Occasionally they will also eat arthropods, birds, and even dead animals.
12. Arabian Horned Viper (Cerastes gasperettii)
The Arabian horned viper is a venomous snake that lives in the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, Israel, and Iran. This snake has a large and flat heart-shaped head, with a collection of large scales that form large eyebrow-like structures. In addition, one long horn protrudes from above each eye like a pointed spear. Arabian horned vipers have strong, thickset bodies that are usually between 12-24 inches long and covered in very roughly keeled scales. These snakes have colors and patterns that help them to blend into their sandy environments. They bury themselves in the sand as they wait to ambush their prey. Arabian horned vipers rarely bite, but their venom is extremely potent and deadly. When they feel threatened, these snakes will curl up and rub their rough scales against one another to make a very loud, rasping sound.
13. Saharan Horned Viper (Cerastes cerastes)
The Saharan horned viper lives in North Africa, as well as a few regions in the Arabian Peninsula. This snake only grows 12-24 inches long, but what it lacks in length it makes up for with its intimidating appearance. The Saharan horned viper has strongly keeled scales that make it look like a dragon, and large spear-like horns protruding above each of its eyes. These snakes come in several different colors, depending on the environment where they live. They are often grey, yellow, pink, brown, or reddish, their colors matching the sand and rocks of their surroundings. Dark crossbands or blotches run along the length of their bodies, and often end in a black-tipped tail.
Saharan horned vipers prefer dry areas with rocks and fine sand. These snakes submerge their bodies in the sand, so that only their eyes and large horns are exposed. When a potential prey animal comes close enough to the snake’s hiding place, it springs into action and quickly strikes it with its toxic venom.
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