The Puff Adder (Bitis arietans) is a venomous viper snake species found in African savannah and grasslands. The species is probably the most common and widespread snake in the continent.
When disturbed the snake will coil into a defensive S-shaped posture and hiss loudly, hence its common name "Puff adder". This is used as a warning signal, it's best not to ignore it, you really don't want to find out why.
If it becomes agitated, it will resort to an obvious serpentine movement moving surprisingly fast, with possibly deadly consequences.
It can be found in most of sub-Saharan Africa from Morocco and western Arabia up to the Cape of Good Hope. The exceptions are the Sahara desert, rain forest regions, and tropical alpine habitats.
This snake species is also commonly known as African puff adder or common puff adder. Interestingly enough the unrelated American non-venomous hognose snakes are also sometimes referred to as "puff adders".
The species color pattern varies geographically, varying from yellow, light brown, orange or reddish brown, overlaid with a pattern of dark brown to black chevron-shaped or U-shaped bands.
The belly is white or yellow, with some scattered dark spots. In the head, they have 2 very distinct dark bands, one located on the crown and the other between the eyes. With the exception of the outermost rows, their dorsal scales are strongly keeled.
They use their natural cryptic coloration and patterns camouflage for hunting, and for defensive purposes as they are preyed upon by warthogs, honey badgers, and other snakes such as the mozambique spitting cobra.
This is a robust, thick and heavily built snake species with males being usually larger than females.
The puff adder average size is about 40 inches (1 meter) in total length but larger specimens up to 75 inches (190 cm) and weighing over 13.2 lbs (6.0 kg) with a girth of 16 inches (40 cm) have been reported.
The puff adder appearance with a thick, stout body and flat, distinct, triangular head is somewhat similar to that of its close relatives the Gaboon viper (B. gabonica) or the rhinoceros viper (B. nasicornis).
Subspecies / Taxonomy
There are 2 subspecies are currently recognized by scientists.
Puff adder (Bitis arietans arietans - Merrem, 1820) - Found throughout sub-Saharan Africa to Cape Province in South Africa and in the southwest Arabian Peninsula and Yemen.
Somali puff adder (Bitis arietans somalica - Parker, 1949) - This subspecies occurs only in Somalia and northern Kenya.
Venom / Bite
Puff Adder venom is cytotoxic, it destroys tissue but regarded as slow-acting. But based on it's LD50 it is considered one of the most toxic of any viper snake species. The venom yield in a single bite ranges between 150 and 350 mg, with a maximum recorded of 750 mg.
But to kill an adult human it only requires about 100 mg, and death may with occur within a day. A puff adder bite causes immediate severe pain, swelling, blistering, nausea, vomiting and later on necrosis with massive muscle and tissue damage.
If not properly treated and the venom spreads it will at some point result in gangrene and secondary infections oftentimes resulting in loss of digits and limbs.
Puff adder's fatality rate is highly dependent on the severity of the bite medical treatment received by the victim. Its bite mortality rate is probably about 15% if left untreated but as high as 52% in severe envenomations.
It's considered responsible for the majority of snakebite fatalities in Africa, more than any other African snake, including the Black Mamba. This is due to several factors, such as its wide habitat distribution and their frequent occurrence in highly populated regions.
The statistics are slightly misleading and don't indicate the potency of the species venom itself. Although the puff adder is often classified as the most dangerous snake in Africa, it isn't the deadliest or the most venomous snake in Africa.
Diet / Feeding
They are mostly nocturnal, and rarely hunt prey actively, instead these snakes prefer to ambush their prey as it passes by. Their diet includes mammals, birds, amphibians, and lizards.
Although these are somewhat slow-moving snakes, they are highly aggressive and can make incredibly fast biting attacks they are one of the fastest striking snakes in the world.
Surpassed only by the Australian death adder. It can strike within 0.25 of a second both forward and to the side. They seldom grip their prey, instead, once bitten the prey is released as the venom is injected and later tracked by smell.
The Puff adder is an ovoviviparous snake species meaning that the young develop within an egg that hatches inside the female's body. The mating season usually occurs in spring when the female snake produces a pheromone used to attract the males
The males will engage each other in neck to neck wrestling combat dances. A female can be followed by several males at the same time.
They give birth to a large number of offspring, 20 to 60 is usual, but litters of over 80 young have been reported, the newborns are between 12.5cm and 17.5 cm in length. The gestation period is between 7 to 9 months although it can reach a period over 12 months.
The larger specimens, namely those from East Africa, will give birth to the highest numbers of offspring. A Kenyan female puff adder in a Czech zoo gave birth to 156 young, the largest recorded litter for any snake species.
Conservation / Threats
The species conservation status by IUCN Red List is not evaluated, they are not listed on CITES. With the puff adder being probably the most common and widespread venomous snake species on the African continent, their future conservation is not a problem.
Did You Know?
The central ranges taipan a large, fast and highly venomous species of taipan was only discovered and described in 2007.