Gaboon viper

Update of post from February 1, 2014

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The gaboon viper is a venomous snake living in central Africa. These snakes have an amazing pattern on their backs, comprised mostly of various sizes, shapes, and colors of triangles. Their scales can be olive green, black, white, gray, and different shades of brown. These earthy colors help the gaboon viper camouflage with the leaves on the forest floor.

The picture below shows a close-up of a this snake’s head. The first thing to notice is the red arrows pointing to the bulges on either side of the snake’s head. These bulges, which make the head triangular, are the venom sacks where the venom is stored. At the tip of the snake’s nose, you can see two small horns close together. These can be used to distinguish these snakes from most others. Below the horns are the snakes’ nostrils, which help them detect prey.

There are two subspecies of gaboon vipers: the east African gaboon viper and, can you guess? The west African gaboon viper. The eastern subspecies normally has a lighter overall color, but there is an easier way to tell them apart. Look at the heads of the snake shown above and the one shown below. Do you see a difference? Look especially at the triangles under the snakes’ eyes. Both snakes have a dark brown triangle there, but the east African one shown below has a light stripe cutting the triangle in two. The western variety doesn’t have this.

Size

These snakes are pretty large, bigger than most snakes here in the United States. In fact, they are the largest vipers in the world! They grow to an average size of about 4-5 feet (1.2-1.5 m) long weighing between 17 and 22 pounds (8-10 kg). Females are normally larger than males, and there was a report a female gaboon viper that was 6 feet (1.8 m) long and weighed 25 pounds (11.3 kg). This is about the weight of a small two-year-old child!

Diet and hunting

Like all snakes, giboon vipers are carnivores. These snakes are ambush predators. They use their camouflage to hide among the plants and strike out at potential prey that wanders by. Most venomous snakes will bite their prey then immediately release it, tracking it down after the venom kills it. The giboon viper takes the more dangerous route, biting its prey and holding on until it dies. This is more dangerous because the struggling animal could injure the snake.

Their main food is small mammals, usually rodents. They will also eat frogs, toads, and lizards as well as small, ground-dwelling birds.

Venom and bite

Giboon vipers have a very scary bite. If you look at the picture below, you can see the long, needle-like fang extending from the flap of skin in the snake’s mouth. These fangs are the longest fangs of any venomous snake, and they can be up to 2 inches (5 cm) long!

The venom of the giboon viper is deadly, as it contains toxins which destroy blood cells. The good thing about this snake is that it is normally hesitant to bite. Merely walking by it will most likely not get you bitten, but if you step on it or aggravate it, you might want to book a trip to the hospital. There have been many people who died from giboon viper bites, and many survivors need the limb that was bitten to be amputated. These snakes can regulate the amount of venom they inject with each bite, so some cases are much more serious than others.

Habitat and range

The giboon viper’s range is shown in black on the map below. These snakes live only in Africa, and mostly in the central portion of the continent. They don’t live in the Northern part because that area is mostly desert. Not the best habitat for a snake.

 

 

The main reason these snakes live in central Africa is because this area contains rainforests. These lush habitats provide plenty of prey as well as plenty of places to camouflage themselves from predators and prey alike.

Status and threats

The giboon viper has not been classified by any major conservation group. There are only a few natural predators of this snake as their camouflage, long fangs, and venom deter many would-be predators. They do have a few natural predators including monitor lizards, cobras, wild cats, and secretary birds.

This snake’s main threats are caused by humans. Habitat destruction is a big concern, and some people kill this snakes as well. The main reason for killing them is probably out of fear, but their skin may be used in products as well.

Reproduction

Giboon vipers mate during the rainy season. The males take part in fights where the goal is to pin the other male’s head to the ground. Sort of like arm wrestling. If the female is willing to mate with the winning male, she will lift her tail to signal this to him.

The female then has a seven month gestation period, after which she gives birth to thirty to fifty live young. At birth, the young snakes are already about seven inches (17.8 cm) long! The young immediately leave their mother, and there is no parental care for the babies. These snakes can live to be up to 18 years old!

Don’t forget to scroll down and comment your guess about what the next animal is!

Sources:

Photo credits:

  • Gaboon viper – Wikipedia user: Danleo
  • Gaboon viper head – Public domain
  • East African gaboon viper – Public domain
  • Gaboon viper fangs – Brian Mckay
  • Gaboon viper range – Wikipedia user: Jwinius
  • Mystery animal – Montage Man
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