Their name ‘puff adder’ comes from the snake known for inflating itself and hissing when feeling threatened. The puff adder is one of the most common and widespread venomous snakes found in Africa. There are two subspecies of this snake; the more common and widespread puff adder, as found in the Kruger, and the puff adder found in Somalia and northern Kenya.
The puff adder, which grows to a maximum of 1 metre in length, is easily recognized by its stumpy and stocky appearance, is yellow-brown to light brown in colour with chevron-like markings, and a large, triangular shaped head with large nostrils that point upwards.
Puff adders belong to the viper family, meaning they have large, hinged front fangs that in order for them to be retained, they have to be hinged and folded out of the way of the mouth. It is because of this that their bites are painful and they are able to deeply penetrate their venom.
Their venom is described as cytotoxic, meaning it causes severe swelling and is toxic to cells causing cells to be destroyed, known as necrosis. A puff adder usually produces between 100 – 350 mg of venom with a single bite, referred to as their venom yield, and a maximum of 750 mg. It takes only about 100 mg of venom to possibly kill a fully grown adult.
|Puff adder striking.|
The puff adder takes the title for the most bites and fatalities of a snake in Africa, accounting for 60% of all recorded snake bites. The reasons for its high number of bites being because it does not move away from approaching footsteps, instead defending its position and striking if deemed necessary, it is widely distributed throughout sub-Saharan Africa, including the Kruger National Park, and is aggressive by nature.
However the chances of death from a puff adder bite are thankfully small, fatalities that do occur are usually due to poor medical care and a secondary infection from the bite.
These snakes are found throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa, in countries such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Malawi, Botswana and the Arabian Peninsula among many others, except for the Sahara and rainforest areas.
Puff adders prefer living their lives out in somewhat rocky grassland areas, open woodlands and savannah habitats.
|Puff adder markings.|
These snakes are great at climbing trees, lurking in bushes and are capable of swimming with ease.
Puff adders are sluggish and slow snakes, who often bask in the sun in low bushes and on rocks. Their patterns, on black or brown surfaces such as dead leaves, create excellent camouflage.
When disturbed, they will hiss loudly and assume a tightly coiled and defensive posture with their fore part of their body in a taut ”S” shape. They may try to retreat from the perceived threat towards cover and safety.
Puff adders have one of the fastest strike of all snakes, and are able to strike either from the side or front on, after which they quickly return to their defensive position, ready to strike again if need be. They can strike up to one third of their total body length while young and inexperienced puff adders launch their entire bodies forward. These vipers do not often grip their victims preferring to release quickly and then returning to their defensive position.
Puff adders mainly eat rodents but will also chow down on birds, amphibians, lizards, meerkat pups and even other snakes. These vipers are both diurnal and nocturnal although mostly active during the night.
A female puff adder releases a pheromone that attracts male puff adders, who then battle it out in a neck-wrestling dance, in the hopes of winning over the female.
In late summer, a large litter of 20 to 60 baby puff adders are born, between 12.5 and 17.5 cm long. A female puff adder, in a Czech zoo, holds the record for the most live young born of any snake, at an extraordinary number of 156!
Female puff adders give birth to live young through a process which is viviparous; young puff adders develop within an egg during the incubation period, only to break out at the end of term while still inside their mother and then emerge into the world.
Did you know?
Are very territorial snakes and have been known to kill other puff adders that are within their territory.