Puff Adder Fact File
The puff adder is a snake with a thick body covered with scales. At one end of the body is the wide, flattened head that has a round snout. Their head is triangular in shape.
Along their body the scales are mostly brown, tan, pink or grey with white chevrons running across the back. Some individuals also have additional yellow marking. On the underside they have a lighter coloration with dark blotching.
Their scales are keeled giving them a rough appearance. The tongue is forked to help with sensing prey.
Males are often smaller than females and have brighter coloration than the females. Females will typically have a short, stubby tail while that of the male is longer.
Puff adders rarely reach greater than 1m (3.3ft) though exceptional individuals have reached up to 1.5m (4.9ft). An average weight for this species is 4.5 to 6.8kg (9.9-15lbs).
The puff adder is a carnivore. Their diet includes a range of small mammals (mostly rodents), birds, frogs and reptiles such as lizards, tortoises and smaller snakes. Juveniles may also consume insects.
They will strike quickly at prey which runs past them. To lure prey closer they will flick out their tongue. Once they have captured the prey they will inject large amounts of venom. Once they inject the venom they typically let go of the prey and wait for it to succumb to the effects of the venom before ingesting it which helps to avoid injury. Smaller prey may be held in the mouth while it succumbs to the effects of the venom.
Puff adders can go without food for multiple days up to many weeks lying in wait till something comes to them.
4.5 to 6.8kg (9.9-15lbs)
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Africa is the native home of the puff adder. Here they can be found throughout much of Sub-saharan Africa and north to the Arabian peninsula.
Their wide range is due, in part, to their adaptability to a wide range of habitats. Potential homes for this snake include deserts, rainforests, grasslands, savanna and open forest.
Mating takes place between October and December. Males will fight for breeding rights with the females in the area. Once they obtain this they will court a female by following her and flicking their tongue.
Puff adders give birth to live young unlike most snakes which lay eggs. Eggs are still produced but these incubate inside the mother for up to 10 months and hatch prior to her giving birth to the juveniles.
They can produce large litters of snakes with an average of 20-40 but up to 60 have been produced in exceptionally large clutches.
Sexual maturity is reached at four years old.
Unlike most snakes which move through s-shaped wiggles this snake moves in a straight line similar to a caterpillar.
These snakes are primarily active at night.
Puff adders are solitary and only come together to mate.
Predators and Threats
Natural predators of the puff adder include secretary birds, honey badgers, birds of prey such as eagles and hornbills, warthogs and the cape cobra.
To protect against predation their coloration provides effective camouflage in their environment. If this is unsuccessful they will hiss and if they continue to be threatened they will bite the predator. They also inject their potent venom.
Puff adders are responsible for a number of snakebite deaths in Africa each year. Their hemotoxic venom affects the bloodstream. If bitten by any snake it is important to seek medical treatment.
To deliver the venom they have hinged fangs which allow them to be quite large.
Their name, puff adder, comes from the way they will inflate their body and puff loudly if threatened.
Top and Both Middle
By Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE – Puff Adder (Bitis arietans), CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40774109
Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK
Brown, A. 2019. “Bitis arietans” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed December 06, 2020 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Bitis_arietans/
Nassrulla, T., 2020. The African Puff Adder | Tanzania-Experience. [online] Tanzania-Experience. Available at: <https://www.tanzania-experience.com/blog/the-african-puff-adder/> [Accessed 6 December 2020].
African Snakebite Institute. 2020. Puff Adder – African Snakebite Institute. [online] Available at: <https://www.africansnakebiteinstitute.com/snake/puff-adder/> [Accessed 6 December 2020].
Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve. 2020. Wild Facts Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve | Puff Adder. [online] Available at: <https://www.sabisabi.com/wildfacts/puff-adder/> [Accessed 6 December 2020].
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