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Viper, Gaboon

Gaboon Viper at the LA Zoo LAIR Photo Credit Jamie Pham

Scientific Name: Bitis gabonica

The Gaboon viper is one of the world’s largest, heaviest vipers. It also has the longest fangs of any venomous snake!

This solitary snake is easily recognizable (though often hard to spot) due to its beautiful, symmetrical pattern along its body. As an ambush predator, this nocturnal hunter will hide among the leaves and wait for its prey to pass by. Sometimes its victims will unknowingly walk right on top of the snake, not realizing their mistake until it is too late.

Their Bite is Worse than Their Bark

With the highest venom yield of all venomous snakes, Gaboon vipers have a deadly bite. Yet the number of human fatalities caused by these reptiles is lower than one would expect. This is due, in part, to the fact that Gaboon vipers tend to be very calm, docile snakes. When threatened, they will initially hold very still and produce a loud, hissing sound as a warning. Unless striking, they tend to be considerably slow-moving. For these reasons, Gaboon viper bites are rare; however, when they bite it is often fatal. Their record-length retractable fangs can be two inches long or more!

The Gaboon viper’s status is unavailable through the IUCN.

There are two subspecies of the Gaboon viper, one of which lives in western Africa while the other inhabits central, southern and eastern Africa. Both subspecies live in tropical forests, spending all of their time hidden on the forest floor.

The main staple of the Gaboon viper’s diet is rodents. They will also eat ground-dwelling birds and lizards. Occasionally, they have been known to go after larger prey, such as mongoose, hares and even monkeys. A Gaboon viper will lie perfectly still on the forest floor, camouflaged beneath the leaf litter. When prey crosses its path, the viper will quickly strike. After biting its prey and injecting it with venom, the viper will hold on until the prey dies, at which point it consumes the animal whole.

The Gaboon viper generally grows to a length of about four feet, though it can grow past six feet long. It can also reach a weight of twenty pounds. More impressive than its length, though, is its girth. These vipers have broad, triangular shaped heads and proportionately thick bodies. Their bodies have a symmetrical, geometric pattern of white, brown, tan and even purple colors. This skin provides excellent camouflage in the leaf litter on the forest floor. They have one or two brown stripes below each eye and small horns on their snout. One of the subspecies, B. g. rhinoceros, has significantly larger horns.

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