Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
A Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Egypt

A Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Egypt

Sherif Baha El Din
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 320
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    A Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Egypt
    Book Description:

    Reptiles and amphibians are among Egypt’s most successful wildlife, found in almost every habitat in the country, from homes to fields and the desert itself. For the first time, A Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Egypt provides concise, reliable, and up-to-date information on all of Egypt’s principal species, with detailed material on their taxonomy, identification, natural history, and ecology. Based on fifteen years of fieldwork, this guide is a valuable tool for experts and amateurs alike in the identification, study, and conservation of these fascinating animals. With an easy-to-use key, high-quality maps, and over 100 color illustrations, this field guide covers 110 species—including tortoises and turtles, lizards, snakes, and crocodiles—found in Egypt. Each entry contains concise information about the species, including English, Latin, and Arabic names; world and Egypt distribution; distinguishing features; habitat and ecology; behavior; and conservation status. Included too are line drawings to illustrate key identification features and differences between species. With a comprehensive bibliography for further research, the guide supplies the accuracy and scientific rigor that scientists look for, while providing an accessible approach for generalists and amateurs. For biologists, nature lovers, and anyone interested in Egypt’s rich natural heritage, A Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Egypt is an ideal reference tool.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-267-6
    Subjects: Zoology, Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Mohamed Kassas

    The knowledge of our biodiversity resources is still far from complete. Understanding and accounting for our biodiversity is essential if we are to develop meaningful and effective strategies and actions for their future conservation. The present treatise is an excellent example of biodiversity survey, which updates and consolidates our knowledge about an important part of the Egyptian fauna, the herpetofauna. This fauna deserves special attention particularly the amphibia, turtles and tortoises, which are among the most threatened groups of biota worldwide.

    The introductory chapter provides a synoptic outline of the scene of Egypt: its diverse deserts, oases, Nile Valley and...

  5. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xii)

    The Egyptian fauna has been documented and investigated for a long time, probably longer than any other fauna in the world, dating back to pharaonic times. The herpetofauna received special attention from the ancient Egyptians, who depicted many reptile species in their inscriptions, such as CobrasNajasp., Horned ViperCerastes cerastes, Nile CrocodilesCrocodylus niloticus, and Dab LizardsUromastyxsp. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Egypt was a popular destination for naturalists and explorers, becoming an important source of material used in describing many taxa after the establishment of the Linnaean nomenclature system. In more recent times, Egyptian...

  6. Chapter 1 The Egyptian Setting
    (pp. 1-2)

    Egypt occupies the northeastern corner of the African continent, with a surface area of just over one million square kilometers (1,019,600 km), or about 3% of the total area of Africa (Zahran and Willis 1992). The country is situated within the largest and driest desert region on the globe, with one of the world's largest rivers running through it. Egypt can be divided into four major terrestrial physiographic regions: the Nile Valley, Western Desert, Eastern Desert, and Sinai (Kassas 1993); and two marine regions: the Mediterranean and Red Sea. Perhaps the most outstanding feature of Egypt’s landscape is the Nile...

  7. Chapter 2 Evolution of Egypt’s Landscape and Its Herpetofauna
    (pp. 3-6)

    The contemporary Egyptian landscape is the outcome of millions of years of geological evolution. However, the events that took place since the early Miocene (25 MYBP) have had the greatest impact in shaping the present-day structural framework of Egypt (Said 1990). It is in this period that Egypt reached roughly its current shape and size, the Nile River was born, and the Arabian Plate drifted away from Africa to open up the Red Sea.

    The Red Sea, the principal migration barrier between Arabia and Africa, is relatively young (Joger 1987). Early Miocene rifting produced the Gulf of Suez and widened...

  8. Chapter 3 The Contemporary Egyptian Herpetofauna
    (pp. 7-12)

    The contemporary Egyptian herpetofauna encompasses at least 118 species, composed of nine species of amphibians, sixty-one lizards, thirty-nine snakes, one crocodile, seven species of turtles and a tortoise. In total the current work adds almost 20% to the previously reported fauna, including some twenty species not reported in the last published herpetofaunal review of the country (Saleh 1997).

    Contributions to the herpetological knowledge of Egypt leading up to this volume include six new species:Bufo kassasii, Hemidactylus foudaii, H. mindiae, Tarentola mindiae, Tropiocolotes bisharicus,andT. nubicus. An additional fourteen species are reported from Egypt for the first time (in...

  9. Chapter 4 Herpetofaunal Habitats of Egypt
    (pp. 13-18)

    Egypt enjoys a considerable diversity of habitats and vegetation types, despite its predominantly hyper-arid environment, and this habitat diversity supports a corresponding diversity of faunal elements (Kassas 1993). This can be attributed to the fairly varied landscape of the country, and its geographic position, which places Egypt under the influence of several climatic patterns. The contemporary assemblage of habitats in Egypt is the outcome of complex ecological processes, and interactions between the physical environment, climate, and biota over millennia.

    The vast majority of Egypt's territory is made up of desert. Despite their image as lifeless, monotonous parts of the world,...

  10. Chapter 5 Conservation
    (pp. 19-20)

    Most Egyptian reptile and amphibian species are not protected by law. Law 4 for 1994 is the main legislation currently offering protection to species of wildlife. The main weakness in current legislation is in the executive regulations, which designate a list of protected species based on scattered decrees issued previously by the Ministry of Agriculture. Only fifteen species are thus specifically protected by Egyptian legislation:Uromastyx aegyptia, U. ocellata, U. ornate, Chamaeleo africanus, C. chamaeleon, Varanus griseus, V. niloticus, Eryx colubrinus, E. jaculus, Walterinnesia aegyptia, Crocodylus niloticus, Testudo kleinmanni, Chelonia mydas, Eretmochelys imbricata,andTrionyx triunguis. Some of these species...

  11. Chapter 6 Methodology
    (pp. 21-24)

    More than ten thousand reptile and amphibian specimens originating from Egypt were examined in the various institutions visited, and in the author’s private collection. Material collected from Egypt of all 118 taxa recorded in the country was examined, with the exception ofLycophidion capense, Dolichophis jugularis,andLepidochelys olivacea. Materials and literature resources in the following institutions were utilized: Natural History Museum, London; Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago; National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C.; Museum of Comparative Zoology, Cambridge, Massachusetts; California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco; Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, Berkeley; and Koenig Museum, Bonn. Important specimens from...

  12. Chapter 7 Amphibia
    (pp. 25-26)

    The amphibian fauna of Egypt is rather poor, which is not surprising given that 95% of the country consists of desert. Toads and frogs (Anura) are the only amphibians known from Egypt: tailed amphibians (Caudata) have not been found in the country. In total there are 4 toads and 3 frogs known from Egypt....

  13. Chapter 8 Bufonidae
    (pp. 27-36)

    A large and widespread genus characterized by a warty skin, horizontal elliptical pupils, slender terminal phalanges, and usually large and obvious paratoid glands. Four species have been recorded from Egypt.Bufo dodsoniBoulenger 1895: 540. Type locality: Rassa Alia, Somalia. Holotype: BMNH 1947.2.21.19.

    Bufo brevipalmataAhl 1924

    Bufododsoni Schmidt and Marx 1957, Marx 1968, Saleh 1997 Arabic: dufda‘a‘ilba

    Taxonomy: Monotypic.

    Diagnosis: Medium-sized toad; largest recorded is a female from Gebel Elba with a SVL of 59 mm (Schmidt and Marx 1957). Snout short rounded; paratoids prominent, smooth, oval; tympanum distinct, large, equal to eye diameter. Back covered with medium-sized,...

  14. Chapter 9 Ranidae
    (pp. 37-46)

    Slender frogs with long hind limbs, highly aquatic. Dorsum with more than two longitudinal ridges. Pupil horizontally elliptical; tympanum distinct; toes webbed; terminal phalanges of toes thin, claw-like. Males with paired lateral vocal sacs. An African genus centered in the tropics; formerly considered synonymous withRana.Currently two species belonging to this genus are recognized in Egypt.Rana mascareniensisDuméril and Bibron 1841: 350. Syntypcs: MNHN 4379-81. Type locality: “Mascareignes” and “Séchelles ” interpreted as Madagascar (Poynton 1964).

    Rana savignyiJan 1857

    Rana idaeSteindachner 1864

    Rana nigrescensSteindachner 1864

    Rana venustaWerner 1908

    Rana (Ptychadena) mascareniensisBoulenger 1918


  15. Chapter 10 Hylidae
    (pp. 47-50)

    Usually arboreal species. Pupil horizontally elliptical; tympanum fairly distinct; toes webbed; terminal phalanges of toes and fingers with dilated discs. Males with a subgular vocal sac. Distributed in Europe, the Middle East, eastern Asia, northwestern Africa, and the Americas. One species present in Egypt.

    Hyla savignyiAudouin 1829: 183. Type locality: restricted to Syria by Flower (1933). Holotype: Not traced (Balletto et al. 1985).

    Hyla arborea savigniiBoulenger 1882, Flower 1933 Arabic:dufda‘at al-shajar

    Taxonomy: Monotypic.

    Diagnosis: A medium-sized frog; the largest examined specimen from Egypt has SVL of 46 mm (SMB 276 from Sheikh Zowaid). Snout short and rounded;...

  16. Chapter 11 Reptilia
    (pp. 51-52)
  17. Chapter 12 Gekkonidae
    (pp. 53-114)

    Mostly nocturnal lizards. There are at least 24 species belonging to 7 genera known to be represented in Egypt. Gekkonids are well diversified in arid lands because of their special capacity for tolerating the harsh desert conditions. Most Egyptian taxa are nocturnal, allowing them to avoid the tough conditions of the daytime. Because of their nocturnal and reclusive habits they are also not very well studied. During the past 8 years 5 gecko species new to science have been described in Egypt. Geckos inhabit all habitats of the country, from littoral scrub, sand dunes, and mountains to the mesic habitats...

  18. Chapter 13 Agamidae
    (pp. 115-138)

    Agamids are strongly built medium-to large-sized lizards. Body and head depressed. Head more or less heart-shaped. Neck distinct. Sexes usually differ, males being more brightly colored than females. Color changeable according to temperature and mood. Omnivorous or herbivorous.

    Medium- to large-sized lizards. Ear large, width greater than that of the eye; long

    spines around the cars and on the sides of the neck.

    Some 30 species are recognized, distributed throughout much of Africa. One

    species is represented in Egypt.

    Agama spinosaGray 1831: 57. Type locality: “Africa” (probably the Eastern Desert at the latitude of Qena [Anderson 1900]).Holotype: BMNH.


  19. Chapter 14 Chamaeleonidae
    (pp. 139-146)

    Distinctive arboreal lizards. Many morphological, physiological, and behavioral peculiarities make them highly adapted for life on vegetation and for a sit-and-wait foraging mode. Body and head strongly compressed laterally; head helmeted; eye large, cone-shaped, covered (except for pupil) by the eyelids; digits fused in opposing clusters; tail prehensile. Eyes can move independently; tongue extremely long and can protrude for a distance equal to SVL or more; color changes according to mood and for camouflage.

    Some 50 species are recognized, mostly in Africa. Two species are known from Egypt:Chamaeleo africanusandC. chamaeleon.There is an unconfirmed specimen record of...

  20. Chapter 15 Lacertidae
    (pp. 147-190)

    This is a large Old World family of ‘true’ lizards, with about 230 species assigned to some 27 genera (Arnold 1989), and distributed through most of Eurasia and Africa. Diurnal, mostly ground-dwelling species. Characterized by slender habitus, small to medium size, well developed limbs, long autotomizing tail, head covered by large symmetrical shields.

    One of the most prominent, diverse and widespread herpetofaunal elements found in Egypt, represented by 16 species belonging to 6 genera. Medium-to large-sized lizards. Egypt’s most prominent reptiles; inhabiting deserts and semi-deserts. More associated with sandy substrates than most other Egyptian lizards, hence the lateral fringes on...

  21. Chapter 16 Varanidae
    (pp. 191-196)

    Usually large, including the world’s largest living lizards. Slender body; long neck; long, forked tongue; well developed limbs, strong claws; non-autotomous tail; head scales small, polygonal, juxtaposed; back scales granular bead-like scales; a single pair of pre-anal pores.

    All living varanids are placed in this genus. About 50 species distributed from Africa, through south and central Asia to Australia.Tupinambis griseusDaudin 1803: 352. Type locality: Egypt.

    Varanus scincusMerrem 1820

    Psammosaurus caspiusEichwald 1831

    Varanus ornatusCarlleyle 1869

    Varanus griseusBoulenger 1885Psammosaurus arabicusHemprich and Ehrenberg 1899

    Arabic:waral sahrawi

    Taxonomy: Three subspecies are recognized:V g. caspius...

  22. Chapter 17 Scincidae
    (pp. 197-214)

    Six genera are represented in Egypt and distributed in almost all habitats of the country. This is one of the most abundant and well-represented reptilian groups in Egypt, with several members adapted to life in extreme xeric conditions.Scincopus fasciatusPeters 1864, which is found in North Africa east into Tripolitania, Libya, and south to the Sahel including northern Sudan, was anticipated to be found in Egypt by Flower (1933) and thus listed by Marx (1968). Despite the likelihood of the occurrence of this species in Egypt, no actual evidence of its existence has been found yet.

    Small skinks with...

  23. Chapter 18 Order SQUAMATA: Suborder SERPENTES (Snakes)
    (pp. 215-218)
  24. Chapter 19 Typhlopidae
    (pp. 219-226)

    Snout rounded; head indistinguishable from neck; long narrow rostral, nasal, ocular, and preocular shields; nasal cleft complete or largely complete; body rather thin, usually 20 scales around body; tail short, slightly longer than broad, ending in a spine-like scale.

    About 50 species distributed in southeast Asia and Australia. One species widely introduced throughout the world, including Egypt.Eryx braminusDaudin 1803: 279. Type locality: Vizagapatam, India.

    Typhlops braminusCuvier 1829

    Typhlina braminusMcDowell 1974

    Ramphotyphlops braminusNussbaum 1980, Baha El Din 1996, Saleh 1997 Arabic:bah dudi aswad

    Taxonomy: Monotypic.

    Diagnosis: The following description is of the first specimen reported...

  25. Chapter 20 Leptotyphlopidae
    (pp. 227-234)

    Small, thin, worm-like snakes. Snout rounded; head might be slightly wider than neck; rostral, nasal, and ocular shields large; ocular enters upper lip; nasal cleft complete or largely complete; body rather thin, 14 scales around body; tail relatively long, much longer than broad, ending in a spine-like scale.

    Some 90 species distributed in Africa, western Asia and the Americas. Three species are known from Egypt.Stenostoma cairiDuméril and Bibron 1844: 323. Type locality: Cairo, Egypt.

    Stenostoma FitzingeriJan 1861

    Glauconia cairiBoulenger 1890, Anderson 1898

    Glauconia fitzingeriBoulenger 1893

    Glauconia variabilisScortecci 1928

    Leptotyphlops cairiParker 1932, Flower 1933,...

  26. Chapter 21 Boidae
    (pp. 235-240)

    Small stocky snakes. Head not distinct from neck and body, covered with small scales dorsally. Eyes with vertically elliptical pupils. Tail short and conical. Ventral shields narrow, narrower than width of body. Eleven species are recognized, distributed through northern Africa, southeast Europe, Arabia to India and Mongolia.

    Recently Tokar (1995, 1996) resurrectedGongylophisBoulenger 1892 and included with in it 3 species:Eryx colubrinus, E. conicus(Schneider 1801) andE. muelleri(Boulenger 1892). However, I follow the more traditional, inclusive interpretation ofEryxwhich encompassesGongylophis,until the taxonomy of the group is further clarified.

    Anguis colubrinaLinnaeus 1758: 228....

  27. Chapter 22 Colubridae
    (pp. 241-290)

    Medium-sized snakes. Head slightly distinct from neck; nasal semi-divided. Eyes moderate with vertical pupils. Dorsals keeled, 3-4 of the outer most rows are obliquely arranged and serrated, 19-29 scale rows around mid-body. Anal entire. Teeth reduced and rudimentary, an adaptation to feeding on eggs, apparently the sole food of members of this genus. Six species are recognized, restricted to Africa and southwest Arabia.Coluber scaberLinnaeus 1758: 223. Type locality: “in Indiis ” interpreted as meaning South Africa by Flower (1933).

    Dasypeltis scabraGünther 1858

    Dasypeltis lineolataPeters 1878

    Dasypeltis scabraAnderson 1898, Flower 1933, Marx 1968, Saleh 1997


  28. Chapter 23 Elapidae
    (pp. 291-298)

    Large, fairly slender snakes, with rather short tails; head distinct from neck; nostril in a divided nasal; loreal absent. Eyes large or moderate, with round pupils. Dorsals smooth. Anal entire; subcaudals paired. When threatened these snakes lift the anterior part of the body, flattening and flaring the neck. Fixed, hollow, enlarged fangs. The genus encompasses some 19 species, distributed throughout Africa and south Asia. Two species are found in Egypt.Coluber HajeLinnaeus 1758: 225. Type locality: Lower Egypt.

    Vipera hajeDaudin 1803

    Naja hajeMerrem 1820

    Arabic:nashir musri

    Taxonomy: Three subspecies are recognized:N. h. arabica(Scortecci 1932),...

  29. Chapter 24 Atractaspididae
    (pp. 299-302)

    Medium-sized, fairly slender snake, with short tail; head small, indistinct from neck; rostral large rather protruding; nostril in a divided or partly divided nasal; loreal absent. Eye small, with round pupil. Dorsals smooth. Anal entire, subcaudals single or paired. Very long, erectile, hollow fangs. About 18 species are recognized, distributed in Africa and the Middle East.

    Atractaspis engaddensisHAAS 1950: 52. Type locality: “En-Geddi” (= Ain Gadi), Palestine. Holotype: HUJ.

    Atractaspis engaddensisMarx 1952, Marx 1968, Saleh 1997

    Atractaspis microlepidota engaddensisLeviton and Aldrich 1984, Gasperetti 1988

    Arabic:abtar sina’

    Taxonomy: Monotypic. Leviton and Aldrich (1984) listed this taxon as...

  30. Chapter 25 Viperidae
    (pp. 303-316)

    Medium-sized snakes, with a short stocky body and short tail; head broad, flat, triangular in shape, very distinct from neck. Head covered dorsally with small scales; nostril in a small undivided or partly divided nasal. Eye moderate, with vertical pupil. Mid-dorsals strongly keeled; lateral dorsal scales with finely serrated keels, obliquely positioned, used to produce a defensive, audible, hissing signal. Anal entire, subcaudals paired. Movable, hollow, enlarged fangs. Three species are recognized, distributed in northern Africa and the Middle East.

    Recently Werner et al. (1991) and Werner and Sivan (1992) elevatedCerastes gasperettiiLeviton and Anderson 1967 (from the Arabian...

  31. Chapter 26 Order CROCODYLIA (Crocodiles)
    (pp. 317-320)

    Large, lizard-like, aquatic reptiles, with elongate, narrow snouts, powerful jaws with long, prominent, sharp teeth fitting in opposing sockets (when jaw is closed) except the fourth mandibular tooth. Tail laterally compressed. Osteoderms (heavy plates of bone) form heavy armor underneath the dorsal scales. Byes and nostrils protrude above dorsal surface of head (to facilitate vision and breathing while submerged); eyes with vertical pupils. Webbing between digits.

    Crocodylus niloticusLaurenti 1768: 53. Type locality: “East Indies and Egypt,” restricted by Fuchs et al. (1974) to Egypt.

    Crocodilus madagascariensisGrandidier 1872

    Crocodilus vulgarisvar.madagascariensisBoettger 1877

    Crocodilus niloticusAnderson 1898, Flower...

  32. Chapter 27 Order TESTUDINES (Turtles and Tortoises)
    (pp. 321-322)
  33. Chapter 28 Testudinidae
    (pp. 323-328)

    Carapace domed, without hinges; plastron with or without hinge, if present hinge between femoral and abdominal scutes; submarginal scutes absent. Lower forelimb with thickened, horny scales on their anterior side; hind limbs elephantine; digits with well-developed claws, not webbed. Some 8 species are generally recognized.

    Flower (1933) and Buskirk (1996) refuted all previous claims or suggestions of the possible occurrence ofTestudo graecaLinnaeus 1758 in Egypt. The few individuals obtained from the country were imported specimens purchased from local people; the species is commonly available in pet shops and from traders. Egypt has no suitable habitats, being far too...

  34. Chapter 29 Chelonidae
    (pp. 329-336)

    Head large, broad. Dorsal scutes juxtaposed. A monotypic genus.

    Testudo carettaLinnaeus 1758: 197. Type locality: “insulas Americanas,” restricted to the Bahamas by Schmidt (1953).

    Caretta carettaStejneger 1904, Flower 1933, Marx 1968, Saleh 1997


    Taxonomy: The opinion of Dodd (1988) and Gasperettiet. al.(1993) that this is a monotypic polymorphic species is adopted here.

    Diagnosis: A large marine turtle; the largest Egyptian specimen has a carapace length of 1,240 mm (Clarke et al. 2000). Carapace depressed, slightly elongate, smooth; scutes juxtaposed; posterior edge with moderate indentations; 5 coastal scutes; first marginal scute not in contact with...

  35. Chapter 30 Dermochelyidae
    (pp. 337-340)

    Largest of marine turtles; carapace and plastron covered with smooth leathery skin; with several longitudinal ridges; shape highly streamlined; forelimbs very long; highly adapted for pelagic life. Monotypic.

    Testudo coriaceaVandelli 1761: 2. Type locality: “maris Tyrrheni” = Tyrrhenian Sea, Italy.

    Dermochelys coriaceaBoulenger 1888, Flower 1933, Marx 1968, Saleh 1997

    Arabic:sulhifa’ bahariya khaldiya

    Taxonomy: Generally regarded as monotypic. Diagnosis: A distinctive, unique species; the largest of all marine turtles, reaching 1,800 mm in carapace length, 2,770 mm between forelimb tips (Gasperetti et al. 1993). Carapace and plastron leathery, without horny plates; carapace depressed, elongate, with 7 longitudinal ridges,...

  36. Chapter 31 Trionychidae
    (pp. 341-344)

    Medium-sized freshwater turtles; carapace and plastron leathery, without horny plates; carapace depressed, almost circular; posterior edge forming a large flap over the hind limbs and tail. Neck long; head small, snout elongate, tubular, terminating with the nostrils. Three strong, sharp claws on all limbs, with webbing between digits. Two species are referred to the genus, one in Africa, the other in Asia.

    Testudo triunguisForskål 1775: 9. Type locality: The Nile River.

    Trionyx aegytiacusGeoffroy 1829

    Trionyx niloticusGray 1831

    Trionyx labiatusBell 1837

    Trionyx mortoniHallowell 1844

    Aspidonectes aspilusCope 1860

    Fordia africanaGray 1869

    Trionyx triunguisPeters 1876,...

  37. Chapter 32 Emydidae
    (pp. 345-348)

    Carapace with weak mid-dorsal ridge, serrated posteriorly; plastron without a well-developed hinge; dorsum usually greenish with a complex pattern of yellow stripes. Some 8 species are currently encompassed in this genus, naturally distributed in the Americas.

    Testudo scriptaSchoepff 1792: 16. Type locality: “North America, ” restricted to Charleston, South Carolina by Schmidt (1953).

    Trachemys scriptaIverson 1986

    Arabic:sulhifa’ hamra’ al-udhun

    Taxonomy: As many as 15 subspecies have been described. The taxon widespread in the pet trade and reportedly introduced to Egypt isTrachemys scripta elegans(Wied 1838).

    Emys elegans Wied1838: 213. Type locality: Fox River, Indiana.


  38. Gazetteer of Egyptian Localities
    (pp. 349-354)
  39. Glossary
    (pp. 355-356)
  40. Bibliography
    (pp. 357-378)
  41. Index
    (pp. 379-382)