Gaboon vipers are a heavy, wide bodied snake. Their head is broad and shaped like a triangle. They have small eyes with a vertical slit pupil. Above each nostril is a small horn shaped scale. Along their body are ridged scales and the body is broken up in to geometric shapes which each feature different coloration. This color can vary greatly being brown, tan, cream and purple.
This coloration provides excellent camouflage on the forest floor which they call home.
They have the largest fangs of any venomous species. The longest on record were 5.8cm (2.3in) long.
An average gaboon viper would measure 1.2m (4ft) though extraordinarily large individuals can reach 2m (6.5ft) long. Their weight is between 7 and 10kg (15.4 and 22lbs).
The gaboon viper is a carnivore. Their diet includes small mammals, birds, frogs and toads. Some large individuals have been recorded eating
To find food they will typically lie in wait with their camouflage preventing them from being seen. When prey is within reach they strike and grab the food injecting their toxic venom. Unlike most snakes which release quickly after the bite they will hold their prey till it is immobilized.
Their venom is made up of neurotoxin and hemotoxin. They have the ability to control if venom is injected and if so, how much on each bite.
Average 1.2m (4ft)
Maximum 2m (6.5ft)
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Africa is the native home of the gaboon viper. Here they can be found across parts of West, Central and East Africa.
They make their home in rainforests, woodlands, gallery forest and swamps.
Breeding takes place during the rainy season.
Males will compete with one another for mating rights. This display typically sees two rivals intertwine their bodies and attempt to push the head of their opponent to the ground. If they accomplish this they will gain mating rights with the female.
The eggs develop inside the body with hatching taking place soon before birth. Following this the mother will give birth to live young.
An average clutch is made up of 30-40 young though some as large as 60 have been recorded. The eggs develop in the body for 7 months prior to birth.
At birth the average young is 25.4cm (10cm) long.
There is no parental care and they are on their own from soon after birth.
Sexual maturity is reached at 3-5 years old.
Gaboon vipers spend most of their time on the ground where they camouflage well with the forest floor.
Activity is mostly undertaken at night time.
Predators and Threats
They face predation from secretary birds, large snakes and monitor lizards. These typically hunt younger individuals.
Their main defense is to remain camouflaged though if this is ineffective they will rise up and display their fangs in a ‘yawn.’ They can bite animals which threaten them though this appears to be rare. Often even if stepped on they will not bite.
Humans affect their population in small amounts through habitat loss.
They are the largest of the true viper species.
The gaboon viper is sometimes known as the rhinoceros viper due to the horn like scales over the nose though this can lead to confusion with the closely related species, ‘Bitis nasicornis.’
Used under license
Dick Culbert from Gibsons, B.C., Canada / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)