Hooded malpolon (Malpolon moilensis)

Close up of a hooded malpolon
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Hooded malpolon fact file

Hooded malpolon description

GenusMalpolon (1)

The hooded malpolon is named for its unusual, cobra-like defensive behaviour, in which it lifts the front of the body off the ground, holds it at a 45° angle, dilates the neck into a ‘hood’, and hisses (2) (3) (4). The head of the hooded malpolon is rather elongated, and clearly distinct from the neck, with a convex forehead and a pointed snout, which protrudes over the mouth (2) (3). The body ranges in colour from yellowish to sandy grey or reddish yellow, with irregular and indistinct dark spots on the back and sides, and a cream or white underside, sometimes with reddish speckles (3) (4). The head bears one or two large dark bars on each side, and the large eyes have a conspicuous red or orange iris and a round black pupil (2) (3) (4).

Although sometimes growing to over a metre in length, this snake more usually measures 70 to 90 centimetres (3), with the female being larger than the male, but having a proportionately shorter tail (2). The hooded malpolon can be distinguished from the closely related Montpellier snake (Malpolon monspessulanus) by the convex rather than concave profile of the forehead, and by the dark spot on the head (3).

Also known as
Arabian Montpellier snake, Arabian rear-fanged snake, false cobra, hooded Montpellier snake, Moila snake, Moila’s snake.
Coelopeltis moilensis, Coelopeltis producta, Coluber moilensis, Scutophis moilensis.
Length: up to 150 cm (2)

Hooded malpolon biology

The hooded malpolon is usually active during the day or at dawn and dusk, but may be more nocturnal during the summer months (2) (3). The diet is likely to include lizards, small mammals and birds (3) (4). Despite the cobra-like defensive posture, which also gives rise to the alternative name of ‘false cobra’, the hooded malpolon is not related to cobras, and is in fact only very mildly venomous, and not considered dangerous to humans (2) (3) (4) (5). There is little information available on reproduction in this species, but it is likely to be similar to the related M. monspessulanus, which gives birth to around 4 to 20 live young (6).


Hooded malpolon range

The hooded malpolon is found in North Africa, from Morocco and Mauritania to Egypt, Sudan and Eritrea, as well as in the Middle East and Arabian Peninsula, as far as Syria, Iraq and Iran (1) (2).


Hooded malpolon habitat

The hooded malpolon inhabits stony deserts, desert margins, sandy coastal regions, grassy plains with scrub, oases and cultivated areas, although it is apparently absent from pure sand deserts and from mountains (2) (3). In some areas, this snake has been found sharing the burrows of spiny-tailed lizards (Uromastyx species) (4), and is also capable of creating shelters under stones or logs by shovelling and dragging large amounts of sand using the head and forebody (3).


Hooded malpolon status

This species has not yet been assessed by the IUCN.


Hooded malpolon threats

Little is known about the threats facing the hooded malpolon, or about its status throughout its range. However, in areas such as the United Arab Emirates it may be affected by increasing development and urbanisation, and the associated problems of pollution, habitat alteration, and the extraction of ground water, which may affect its desert habitats (7).


Hooded malpolon conservation

There are currently no specific conservation measures known to be in place for the hooded malpolon, and the species has yet to be assessed by the IUCN (8). Much more research will be needed into the biology, abundance, and threats facing this intriguing snake before any appropriate conservation action can be taken.

Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi is a principal sponsor of ARKive. EAD is working to protect and conserve the environment as well as promoting sustainable development in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.
View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

To find out more about the hooded malpolon see:

  • Hellyer, P. and Aspinall, S. (2005) The Emirates: A Natural History. Trident Press Limited, London.
  • Schleich, H.H., Kästle, W. and Kabisch, K. (1995) Amphibians and Reptiles of North Africa. Koeltz Scientific Books, Koenigstein, Germany.

For more information on reptile conservation see:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk


Active at night.


  1. J. Craig Venter Institute: Reptiles Database (August, 2009)
  2. Hellyer, P. and Aspinall, S. (2005) The Emirates: A Natural History. Trident Press Limited, London.
  3. Schleich, H.H., Kästle, W. and Kabisch, K. (1995) Amphibians and Reptiles of North Africa. Koeltz Scientific Books, Koenigstein, Germany.
  4. Vine, P. (1996) Natural Emirates: Wildlife and Environment of the United Arab Emirates. Trident Press, London.
  5. Perry, G. (1988) Mild toxic effects resulting from the bites of Jan’s desert racer, Coluber rhodorachis, and Moila’s snake, Malpolon moilensis (Ophidia: Colubridae). Toxicon, 26(6): 523 - 524.
  6. O’Shea, M. (2008) Venomous Snakes of the World. New Holland Publishers, London.
  7. WWF: Major environmental threats in the UAE (August, 2009)
  8. IUCN Red List (August, 2009)

Image credit

Close up of a hooded malpolon  
Close up of a hooded malpolon

© Tony Phelps / naturepl.com

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