Photo of the Month: Rowley’s palm pit viper

By Megan Runquist Holmstedt

Rowley’s palm pit viper; PHOTO CREDIT: Jamie Pham

Status: This species (Bothriechis rowleyi) is listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) primarily due to habitat loss. An arboreal snake, this viper is most threatened by deforestation; as human settlements expand, the viper’s habitat is being logged and cleared for agricultural use.

Habitat: The Rowley’s palm pit viper can be found in a few fragmented areas of mountainous forest in southern Mexico: from the highlands of northern Chiapas to extreme southeastern Oaxaca at elevations of 6,000 to 7,000 feet. It is typically found in primary forests and on coffee plantations.

Diet: All snakes are carnivorous; they usually eat mammals such as rodents but will also take other prey such as lizards, frogs, and small birds. Using the heat-sensing pits located between its eyes and nostrils, this ambush hunter waits until prey comes into striking range. After a successful strike, during which the viper delivers a dose of venom, the snake releases its prey and waits for the venom to take effect. Once it does, the snake then swallows its victim, whole and head first. Following a substantial meal, many snakes may go several weeks or even months between feeding.

Most vipers are ovoviviparous, or “live-bearers,” which means that during reproduction, females retain the developing eggs in their body until they hatch. If all goes well, the female gives birth to 2-20 live young, which are roughly 6-7 inches long and appear physically similar to adults.

The L.A. Zoo’s reptile collection houses several of these rare vipers, which are on exhibit in the LAIR.