Puff adder

Bitis arietans


A puff adder is the most common venomous snake in South Africa. It is medium sized and, weighs between 0.5 and 1.2kg reaching 1.2 metres but the norm is usually 0.75m. Their cryptic colouration and reluctance to move out of the way makes them South Africa’s most dangerous snake as they are often trodden on. Puff adders are long lived, maybe as much as 20 years.

Conservation status : Least concern
Kingdom : Animalia
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Reptilia
Order : Squamata
Sub order : Serpentes
Family : Viperidae

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The puff adder gets its name due to an explosion of air that it emits from its mouth when threatened. This is effectively a warning shot not to come any closer.

In a process called ovovivipary the puff adder does not lay eggs but instead retains the soft-shelled eggs which hatch inside her body. The babies emerge fully developed including full functioning fangs and venom.

With its short stocky body the puff adder moves in a straight line like a millipede or a caterpillar. It propels itself forward by a combination of the scales providing traction and the lateral contraction of the rib muscles providing momentum.

A puff adder’s fangs are 20 mm long, this length enables them to inject their venom deep into their victim. Because their fangs are so long they are hinged, this prevents the snake from piercing its lower jaw when it closes its mouth.

The puff adder lies in ambush for rodents that use a well-worn trail. The adder strikes to inject venom deep into the flesh. The snake withdraws its fangs immediately to avoid injury. It then follows the victim’s scent trail at leisure knowing that its prey will soon die.

The puff adder’s venom is cytotoxic. It causes cell damage and necrosis (death) of the tissue. This is incredibly painful and can lead to the loss of a limb or death.

A puff adder will generally give birth to 20-40 live young. However, the record stands at 156 by an adder from Kenya in a Czechoslovakian zoo.

Puff adders can strike incredibly quickly. They first adopt a strike pose with their head held high and arched at the neck, the rest of the body is coiled in support. The strike is faster than that of a camera shutter.