The puff adder, Bitis arietans, is the most common and widespread venomous snake. Found throughout Africa and into Arabia it is only absent from rain forest and extreme desert habitats. It is much larger than the berg adder reaching a maximum size of approximately 1.4 metres in southern Africa.
The puff adder is a heavy set snake, distinctively marked with pale-edged chevron-like patterns running along the back from behind the head and becoming bars towards the tail. The head is broad, triangular and heavily keeled. A pale stripe runs along the top of the head between or behind the eyes.
The puff adder is commonly believed to be a ‘lazy’ snake but really it is an expert at conserving energy; the puff adder can lie for weeks patiently waiting for a meal relying on its excellent camouflage to avoid being noticed.
This goes for encounters with us humans as well. Instead of heading for the hills the puff adder instead chooses to remain motionless. If you approach too closely it will let out an unmistakable hiss - your final warning.
Slow as they may seem, puff adders can strike extremely fast from an S-like coiled position- and at .25 of a second this is arguably the fastest striking snake in the world. The combination of camouflage and speed leads to many bites although only a small percentage are ever fatal.
The puff adder commands respect, it is an evolutionary super power and if one is lucky enough to experience seeing this natural masterpiece, then leave it alone, watch it from a safe distance and make sure to get some pictures!
- Mainly rodents; toads, birds and other snakes may also be taken
- Viviparous giving birth to 20 – 40 young in late summer
Key ID points:
- Relatively short, thick-set snake up to 1.4 metres
- Keeled scales
- Large triangular head distinct from the body
- Hisses and puffs loudly when confronted or disturbed
- Colouration highly variable
- Distinct chevron markings from behind the head, becoming bands towards the tail
Puff adder Gallery (click to enlarge)