The Puff Adder is a venomous viper snake. It is also known as Bitis arietans where “arietans” means “striking violently.” It has been a natural of Savannah, It is also found in grassland areas from Morocco and Western Arabia throughout Africa excluding the Sahara and rain forest regions. Most of the snakebite fatalities in Africa because of various factors, such as its wide distribution, repeated appearance in highly populated regions, and violent nature.
The Puff Adder is a slow-moving, irritable and impulsive snake that reacts very quickly when, disturbed. When aggravated, it attacks forcefully in all directions. It attacks without withdrawing the head in any direction. It trusts on its flawless camouflage to escape detection and will sit still than move off. It is known for its perfect catch of rats. It is a very sneaky snake!
It is known as a surprise attack predator, preferring to lie in wait and then fight its prey once it comes within capturing distance. It injects its venom deeply into its opponent that results in a fatal attack. It does not hold the animal after biting but it lets the opponent go and follows it carefully to check that the animal is dead before it is eaten for dinner. The movement of the Puff Adder is done by moving small sections of its body making it to move in a straight line. Though it is slow moving, strikes powerfully due to its strong muscles. It hisses loudly and, at the same time, lets its body puff up to make it appear large and intimidating when a stronger or dangerous opponent appears. This puffing behavior is what gives the snake its name.
The Puff Adder has a wide, flat, and subtriangular head with small scales over it. It has upward facing nostrils. Its body is covered with U shape scale patterns whose color varies from yellow, brown orange to reddish brown. This species shows some geographical variation in coloration. This means the colors are different based upon where it lives. Usually it has one dark band on the crown of the head and another between the eyes. Two slanting bars of colored scales extend from the eye to the lip, and the eyes can be gold to silver gray. The underside surface of this snake is white to yellow, typically with several dark spots on it. The young Puff Adder tends to have golden markings on the head, and their side plates have pink to red shades.
The snake’s egg remains in the mother’s body until it hatches inside. They are active and poisonous almost immediately after birth. It’s mating season ranges between October to December and gestation period lasts from December to April. The males will fight to get the female of their choice for making a family. Usually females will birth a group of eggs, called clutches, of 20 to 40 which hatch immediately. While the babies can kill small prey soon after their birth, they can also survive up to three months without having their first meal. Newly born Puff Adders usually shed their skin after two to twelve hours from the time they are born. They are able to start their own family at the age of 3 ½ years or so on average.
Their growth in the wild is dependent upon food availability.
In captivity the Puff Adder can live just under 16 years’ maximum (generally) and in wild it would easily survive up to thirteen years.
It is a large, stout snake, seldom beyond 3 feet in total length but in rare occasions reaching almost 6 feet long! Newly born Puff Adders are about 6-9 inches’ total length and weigh 8 to 16 grams. The average weight of an adult ranges from 11 to 13 pounds! These are not small snakes!
Bitis arietans currently has two sub species A) arietans and B) somalica, A. somalica has tipped scales on its body and is limited to Somalia, eastern Ethiopia, and northern Kenya. An arietans is widespread in the African sub-continent and there is no threat to its population. There are plenty to go around!
Yet, habitat loss has occurred due to the human movement into the wild building up farming development in the regions that has threatened to reduce populations of this species. Furthermore, these Puff Adders are hunted in some cultures, for its body fat, which is believed to cure rheumatism, or purposely placed near hunting trails to kill probable game animals or enemy hunters.
It requires suitable hiding place with a sufficient water source, and a moderately warm climate. It is commonly seen in semiarid savannas and rock-strewn grasslands. It tends to avoid the extreme desert and rainforest habitats. It can be found at altitudes as high as 9000 feet (almost 2 miles) and as low as sea level. While the somalica arietans is basically terrestrial, it can swim comfortably and can climb into low trees and shrubs. It is a nighttime (nocturnal) reptile, and can generally be found hiding in piles of leaves relaxing during the day.
The Puff Adder feeds on mammals, birds, amphibians, and lizards. It can also eat variety of frogs including toads and even button quail, duiker deer or a small leopard or tortoise. The young Puff Adders feed on insects or small toads.
The primary hunters of Puff Adders are birds of prey, mongooses and warthogs. Enemies also include wildcats, genets, honey badgers, foxes, buzzards, eagles, secretary birds and ground hornbills. Puff Adders are also vulnerable to parasites like ticks, mites, worms, etc.
Suitability as Pets
The Puff Adder is very dangerous reptile and cannot be considered as a pet and everyone including children should stay away from Puff Adders, even the very young ones.