Gaboon Adder Fact File
Gaboon Adder (Bitis gabonica)Kingdom:
Gaboon Adder (Bitis gabonica
What does the name mean? I have been unable to find the origin, or meaning, of the term "Bitis" except that it used to describe the African vipers that have a common threat display that involves hissing loudly whilst infalting and deflating their bodies, keeled scales, and a distinctive triangular head.
The word,or term "gabonica" has no relevance to the description of the species except perhaps for the locality where it was first described. The species was first described by french naturalists Andre Marie Constant Dumeril and Gabriel Bibron in 1854. Although the exact locality remains unclear it is believed to have been somewhere near the Komo river estuary. The Portuguese, because of its shape, named the estuary "Gabao" which when translated refers to a hooded overcoat. Hence the name Gabon.
Description: This is the heaviest snake in the viperidae family. As with all members of the genus Bitis it has a narrow neck with a distinctive triangular shaped head. The scales are heavily keeled.
The average length for these snakes is 1.1m- 1.5m (3.60ft-4.92ft). Specimens exceeding these lengths are not uncommon. Records of individuals exceeding 1.7m (5.57ft), although rare, have been documented on several occasions. The maximum length recorded for a Gaboon adder was well over 2m (6.56 ft).However what this species may lack in length it certainly over delivers when it comes to sheer weight. The average weight of the Gaboon adder is 3kg - 5kg (6.61 lbs - 11.02 lbs).Females are generally larger, and heavier, than their male counterparts. Females exceeding 8kg (17.6 lbs) have been documented.
As far as I am concerned this is by far the most beautiful snake in the world (Although the rhinoceros viper Bitis nasicornis is a close second).
The geometric colour patterns consists of rich purple, mauve, brown interspaced with dark yellow edged hourglass markings running down the centre of the back.The belly is usually white or cream in colour. The head is also white (cream) with a faint dark central stripe and two dark blue-black triangles below and behind each eye.
At first glance the snake appears almost "velvety".As with all members of this genus these snakes are ambush predators and the colours help it blend perfectly on the rainforest floor.
These snakes have "front-hinged" fangs situated at the front of the mouth which fold into the roof of the mouth within a protective sheath when the mouth is closed. When the mouth opens the fangs unfold outwards, similar to the action of a "switch-blade".
is cytotoxic (tissue destroying).
The fangs of the Gaboon adder are massive, up to 4.5cm (1.77 inches). Thes are the longest fangs of any venomous snake.
Along with its formidable fangs, the Gaboon adder also has enormous venom glands which produce the largest quantity of venom of any snake. A single yield of venom ranges between 200mg - 1000mg. Between 90mg-100mg of venom is fatal in humans.
The venom itself is not particularly toxic if compared to that of cobras and mambas.
As with all
bites symptoms include severe pain and massive swelling and extensive necrosis (tissue damage).
All bites from this snake should be regarded as serious and huge amounts of antivenom is essential.
Despite all this, the species is not classified as dangerous. Unlike the
puff adder (Bitis arietans)
, bites from this snake are extremely rare. There are two reasons for this: Firstly its geographical distribution is limited to rainforest areas, and secondly due to its docile nature it is often reluctant to bite. This species is surprisingly tolerant. Even when stepped on, this species rarely bites.
However, any bite from this snake should be treated as life threatening, and medical assistance is an absolute must.
A bite from this snake may result in death after 20-26 hours if treatment is not recieved.
As with the puff adder deep necrosis may result in severe cases which may lead to the amputation of the affected limb, and extensive reconstructive surgery is often needed.
Death usually results from kidney failure and other complications as a result of extensive swelling.
Distribution: The species can be found in Gabon, Guinea, Ghana, Cameroon, Togo,Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo,
Central African Republic, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and South Africa.
Unlike the Puff adder, it is by no means common. In South Africa the Gaboon adder has been listed as vulnerable and is protected.
Habitat: The Gaboon adder is mainly restricted to areas of high rainfall and low altitudes. They are usually found in rainforests and nearby woodlands.
In South Africa the species is restricted to coastal dune forests. In other parts of Africa they have been found in cashew and coffee plantations as well as open grasslands and swamps.
Habits: Gaboon adders are primarily nocturnal
These are slow-moving snakes relying on their brilliant camouflage to avoid detection.
As with all members of this genus, they are ambush hunters, spending extensive periods of time motionless in wait for prey to come within striking distance.
Despite its sluggish appearance it is capable of striking extremely fast and the utmost care should be taken when approaching this snake despite its placid nature. As with most heavy-bodied snakes locomotion is mostly rectilinear.
The docile nature of this species is widely documented. Although not recommended, it is quite possible to handle the snake freely. I have seen this done on several occasions, even with wild caught specimens.
Personally I would never do that...I have a distinct allergy to pain, and I have seen the damage that a bite from this snake can do.
Give me a Mamba bite anyday!
These snakes are predominantly terrestrial although they have been observed climbing shrubs and small bushes.
This snake is fond of swimming, and can often be found on roads at night.
When disturbed these snakes may coil themselves into a defensive posture and hiss loudly
Reproduction: Gaboon adders are ovoviviparous. Ovoviviparity means that the young develop within an egg, and are nourished by the egg yolk, but instead of being incubated externally, the eggs are retained within the organisms body until they are ready to hatch. The average litter size is between 15-47 young. Litters of 63 young have been recorded on several occasions.
The young measure between 23-37cm (9.05-14.5in).
The gestation period in this species may take up to 12 months although some records show a gestation period over 10 months.
Mating usually occurs in spring with the young being born in late summer.
Males engage in ritualised combat,and only the dominant males mate with the females.
Diet: Prey items usually consists of large rodents and sometimes birds.
Small antelope and even monkeys have been documented as prey items for larger specimens.
As with the Puff adder this species does not actively hunt, but rather lies in ambush and waits for prey to come within striking distance. Prey items are seldom gripped, instead, once envenomated, the prey is released and later "tracked" by smell.
Subspecies: Two subspecies are currently recognised: East African Gaboon adder Bitis gabonica gabonica, and the West African Gaboon adder Bitis gabonica rhinoceros
IUCN Red LIst : Not evaluated.
CITES : No special status
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