The gaboon viper is a deadly snake living in the jungles of central and southern Africa where it spends most of its time lying on the floor, waiting for a meal to drop by for a visit. Although this animal has some very distinct markings, it is very well camouflaged in the leaf litter of the rain forests, and like many other snakes, it is active only at night, making it even harder to be spotted. The gaboon viper is the largest of all true vipers at up to 6 1/2 feet (2 m) long and weighing up to 20 pounds (9 kg). This viper also has the longest fangs of any venomous snake, reaching up to 2 inches (5 cm) long! Although the gaboon viper is very deadly, it still has a variety of predators including the secretary bird, some snake-eating snakes, and large monitor lizards. Its camouflage also helps the gaboon viper avoid many of these potential predators.
The picture on the left points out the venom sacs behind the eyes of the gaboon viper. These sacs completely change the shape of the gaboon viper’s head, making it triangular. Despite its venom, death is not common from gaboon vipers. This is due to the fact that gaboon vipers are very calm and rarely bite even when stepped on. When they feel threatened they will normally just rear back and show their large fangs which are stored in their mouth, folded back. This does NOT mean however that it is okay to handle these snakes! Hungry gaboon vipers often strike at any movement, hoping it will be food. If a gaboon viper does bite, these snakes can choose the amount of venom injected, making the bite more harmful sometimes than others. Gaboon vipers eat mainly small mammals and ground-dwelling birds which they bite and hold on to until their prey dies. These vipers also eat lizards and frogs that come by them on the ground.
Although not much is known about mating in these animals, two males have sometimes been seen “dancing” with their heads off the ground, both trying to force the other snake’s head to the ground. This procedure is thought to be the gaboon vipers’ way of fighting for mating rights. Gaboon vipers are special because they are one of the few snakes that give birth to live young. When the females give birth every two to three years, up to 60 young are born, but this number rarely exceeds 24. These babies, which are less than a foot (30 cm) long, can live up to 8 years.
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- Smithsonian Handbooks Reptiles and Amphibians. Mark O’Shea and Tim Halliday, Smithsonian Institution, ISBN: 978-0-7566-6009-3
- Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide. David Burnie and Don E. Wilson, Smithsonian Institution, ISBN: 978-0-7566-6002-4
- Gaboon viper: wikipedia user Danleo
- Gaboon viper head: public domain
- Mystery animal: MontageMan