Snakes > Puff Adder

Puff Adder / Pofadder

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Bitis arietans arietans

Size Adults may reach an a verage length of 90 cm, with specimens from East Africa attaining maximum lengths of 1.5 m.

Description A heavily built snake that is very thick for its length. The head is wide and clearly distinct from the neck. There are two dark (usually black) bars running from the eye to the jaw. The eye has a vertical pupil. It has strongly keeled dorsal scales that create a matte effect. This, in conjunction with the pattern of wavy pale chevrons and spots on a dark brown to black background, creates superb camouflage for this snake.

Biology Puff adders are generalists that tolerate a wide variety of habitats and environmental conditions across Africa. They are sit-and-wait predators that, although slow-moving, can strike very rapidly. Their primary prey is rodents, although they are known to take toads and lizards, particularly in the case of juvenile puff adders. They are, by African standards, relatively common and may occur in reasonable numbers in highly suitable habitat such as low, thick coastal bush. Puff adders are viviparous and are known in exceptional cases to give birth to very large litters and a litter of 156 has been recorded in East Africa; in South Africa litters are usually between 20 and 40. Puff adders have a strong venom with primarily cytotoxic effects that may lead to death if not treated. Puff adders are responsible for a large percentage of the venomous snakebites in Africa. This may be ascribed to their excellent camouflage and relatively slow speed of escape and their very fast strike, which allows people to approach too closely or even step on the snake. If the snake becomes aware of an oncoming human it will normally take evasive action if given time or will hiss very loudly. Only when approached too quickly for the snake to avoid a confrontation, it will strike. Bites from this snake are serious due to the strong venom and the relatively long fangs that allow deep injection of the venom. Patients suffering a puff adder bite should be immobilized and taken to a hospital as soon as possible for specialist treatment.

Distribution Puff adders occur from the Arabian Peninsula throughout most of Africa. The only areas in Africa from which they are absent are the true desert areas and tropical rainforest.

Distribution in GCBC Probably occurs throughout the Corridor, only avoiding the summits of the Cederberg.

Conservation Status Not listed.

Threats The main threat facing puff adders is habitat destruction, particularly along coastal areas. Because of their venomous bite, these snake are often killed. This should be discouraged as these snakes are very efficient rodent predators and these snakes can be easily moved from areas where they may endanger humans. They are slow-moving and heavy bodied and can thus be easily swept or prodded into a box and moved elsewhere by tipping the box over at the destination.

Current studies None.


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