Gaboon viper

Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Family: Viperidae
Genus and Species: Bitis gabonica
  • Very thick, short snake lying on a black background. The coloration is cream, buff, and brown and resembles fallen leaves.
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Gaboon viper

The largest vipers in Africa, Gaboon vipers are lethargic and placid-natured. They only very rarely bite humans.

Physical Description

Gaboon vipers' coloration camouflages them, making them difficult to see on the forest floor. Their colors are usually a combination of brown, light brown, pink and purple arranged in diamonds and stripes along its back. Light and dark lines radiate from the eye. Its broad head mimics a fallen leaf, right down to the central vein. This striking pattern is excellent camouflage in the snake's native forest habitat, blending it into the leaf litter.

They have small eyes and a short tail.

Size

Gaboon vipers are the largest vipers in Africa attaining weights of over 45 pounds (20 kilograms) and reaching lengths of more than 6 feet (1.8 meters). The largest individuals have heads that can be nearly 6 inches (15 centimeters) across at their widest point.

Native Habitat

The Gaboon viper lives in the rainforests and wet areas in parts of Central, East and West Africa. They are terrestrial and can be found on the forest floor.

Food/Eating Habits

They eat small and medium-sized mammals and birds. Gaboon vipers are passive hunters, waiting concealed to strike at whatever small creatures pass within range. Most snakes strike and release, but the Gaboon viper holds its prey until the victim dies.

Gaboon vipers have a placid nature, and only rarely bite humans. Most bites occur when the snake is stepped on before it has an opportunity to get away. If harassed, it will raise the upper part of its body and hiss in threat before actually striking. In addition to its unwillingness to bite, the viper can control whether and how much venom is injected, so the result of a strike can range from no effect to rapid death. A hungry snake will strike at almost any sideways movement, so some bites might well be a result of mistaken identity.

At the Smithsonian's National Zoo, Gaboon vipers eat mice and rats.

Reproduction and Development

The females can have 50 to 60 babies at a time. The young are born live.

Lifespan

Gaboon vipers live for about 20 years.

Gaboon vipers help control the rodent population in the rainforest and may be threatened locally by habitat loss.