The cerastes (Greek: κεράστης, English: cerastēs, English translation: "having horns") is a creature of Greek legend, a serpent that is incredibly flexible—so much so that it is said to have no spine. Cerastae can have either two large ram-like horns or four pairs of smaller horns. The cerastes hides its head in the sand with only the horns protruding out of the surface; this is meant to deceive other animals into thinking it is food. When the animal approaches the cerastes, the cerastes promptly kills it.
The legend is most likely derived from the habits of the horned viper, whose genus, Cerastes, is named after the mythological creature. They are desert-dwelling animals, which can have horn-like protrusions over their eyes, and are ambush predators, though not nearly large enough to take prey items much larger than a mouse or small lizard.
Leonardo da Vinci wrote the following on Cerastes:
This has four movable little horns; so, when it wants to feed, it hides under leaves all of its body except these little horns which, as they move, seem to the birds to be some small worms at play. Then they immediately swoop down to pick them and the Cerastes suddenly twines round them and encircles and devours them.
- Perseus (Liddell-Scott-Jones Lexicon of Classical Greek) - kerastês, ou, ho, horned, elaphos Soph. El. 568; kantharos IDEM=S.Ichn.300; of a ram, ô kerasta Eur. Cycl. 52 (lyr.); Pan Antip.ti=E. Oxy.662.49, Corn. ND27; Saturoi Luc.Bacch.1:-- # fem. kerastis, idos, of Io, Aesch. PB 674. II. as Subst., horned serpent or asp, Cerastes cornutus, Nic. Th.258, LXX Pr.23.32, D.S.3.50, Ael.NA1.57; hoi k. opheis Call.Hist. 3. 2. pest which destroys fig-trees, Thphr.HP4.14.5, au=Thphr. HP 5.4.5.
- "Cerastes". Medieval Bestiary. 2011-01-15. Retrieved 2018-01-04.
- Leonardo da Vinci (1880). Jean Paul Richter, ed. "Humorous Writings (taken from The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci)". Retrieved 2018-01-04.
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