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Contains articles and advice on a wide variety of venomous snake species. Answers and addresses questions on species husbandry, captive status, breeding, news and conservation issues concerning venomous snakes.

Venomous Snakebite – a New Study, and my own Experiences

Viper FangsAs a career herpetologist, I’ve had several opportunities to study venomous snakes in the field, and have spoken with many people who live in areas where they are common.  My experiences led me to believe that venomous snakebite is a far more serious problem than is typically reported.  Recently, two important studies have established that at least 4.5 million people are bitten annually – 1.5 million in Sub-Saharan Africa alone.  Yet snakebite was only recently included on the World Health Organization’s list of Neglected Tropical Conditions, and in many countries few victims receive appropriate treatment.


The most intensive study to date, published in the journal Toxicon (V.57, N.4; see abstract below), reviewed 40 years’ worth of African medical reports and surveys. The authors concluded that at least 1.5 million people, 95% of whom live in rural regions, are bitten in Sub-Saharan Africa annually.  At least 7,000 people die as a result, and up to 14,000 require limb amputations.  Antivenin, the most effective snakebite treatment, is administered to only 10% of those bitten in Africa. Read More »

Newly Discovered Black and Yellow Viper is Already Endangered

A remote, mountainous forest in southwestern Tanzania is the only place where Matilda’s Horned Viper (Atheris matildae) resides.  Described as a new species in the December, 2011 issue of Zootaxa, the boldly-colored, arboreal snake seems limited to 100 square miles of somewhat degraded habitat.

Natural History

Named for the daughter of one of the researchers who discovered it, Matilda’s Horned Viper is stoutly built, sports horn-like scales above the eyes and is highly-adapted to life above ground.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with several of its brightly colored relatives, but this did not prepare me for the new species’ amazing appearance; the effect of the black and yellow zigzag pattern is hard to describe (please see article below for additional photos).  I’m not sure if these colors serve as a predator deterrent or as camouflage in sun-dappled forest clearings, but look forward to reading future reports on its natural history.

Bush Viper Diversity

The forests in which Matilda’s Horned Viper lives are separated from others by open grasslands, which effectively isolate the snake from related species.  Genetic studies have revealed its closest relative to be the Usambura Bush Viper (Atheris ceratophora), from which it likely evolved some 2 million years ago.

An additional 16-17 Atheris species, commonly known as “Bush Vipers”, range throughout Sub-Saharan Africa (please see article below).  With a single exception, they have prehensile tails and are highly-arboreal.  Many are brilliantly-colored, and populations of a single species may vary greatly in appearance from others of their kind.  Five species inhabit Tanzania, but their ranges do not overlap that of Matilda’s Horned Viper.

Endemics Galore

Tanzania is chock full of species found nowhere else on earth, known as endemics – 64 reptiles, 55 amphibians, 24 mammals, 108 freshwater fishes, 19 birds – and surveys are far from complete.  Tarantula enthusiasts also know it as a country of unique, unstudied spiders.  Please see the article below for a complete list of Tanzania’s endemic reptiles.

Conservation Strategies

Rare, beautiful snakes, even venomous ones, are worth a great deal of money.  With this in mind, the exact location of the new species’ habitat is a closely-guarded secret, and a captive population has been established as a hedge against extinction.

In a surprising twist on traditional conservation techniques, researchers have announced that captive-born young, if produced, may be offered to collectors free-of-charge. It is hoped that this will deter the taking of wild individuals.  Odd perhaps, but “desperate times require desperate measures” – after all, prohibitions on hunting rhinos and other valuable animals have proven largely ineffective in much of Africa.

CITES I and IUCN Critically Endangered designations have been proposed for Matilda’s Horned Viper as well.

Other New Vipers

Ngorongoro Crater2011 was a banner year for viper researchers, with several new species being described.  Please see the article below for more on Ruby-Eyed Vipers and other surprising finds.




Further Reading

Abstract of article describing the new species

More photos of Matilda’s Horned Viper

Newly Discovered Yellow and Ruby-Eyed Vipers

Tanzania’s Endemic Reptiles

Bush Vipers: species and ranges


Atheris ceratophora image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Al Cortiz
Matilda’s Viper image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Christine Dell’Amore

Ngorongoro Crater image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by William Warby

The Natural History of the World’s Rarest Viper, the Aruba Island Rattlesnake

Occasionally I like to highlight animals that, while not suitable as pets, are none-the-less of great interest to reptile enthusiasts.  The Aruba Island Rattlesnake, Crotalus unicolor, native to a place known more for its resorts than for reptiles, is one such beast…from diet to range to appearance, it is most unique.

Please Note: I’ve had the good fortune of working with Aruba Island Rattlesnakes at the Bronx and Staten Island Zoos.  This came about in connection with a lifetime of training and experience, supported by an emergency response team that would assure rapid care in the event of a bite.  I would not keep venomous snakes in my private collection, nor should anyone. Read More »

New From Southeast Asia – Yellow and Red Eyed Vipers and a Giant Cave

Politics and war have long hindered the work of resident and foreign biologists inVietnam and elsewhere inSoutheast Asia. Governmental red tape is also a serious concern…several years ago I obtained funding to study salamanders in northernVietnam, but abandoned the project for this reason. However, the situation is improving, and recent expeditions have brought a host of amazing new creatures and places to light, including 2 beautiful arboreal snakes and a cave housing a large, underground river.

Ruby-Eyed Green Pit Viper, Cryptelytrops rubeus

Southeast Asia’s pit vipers are a confusing jumble of similarly-colored venomous snakes that are supremely adapted to life in the trees. Many were originally classified in the genus Trimeresurus, along with the Bamboo Viper (please see photo) and related snakes. Genetic research and behavioral studies on specimens collected from 1999-2003 has revealed at least 2 new species. Read More »

Recent Field Research – Reptile and Amphibian Feeding Observations

Eastern Hognos SnakeMany interesting field research reports are published in professional journals such as Copeia, Herpetologica and Herpetological Review, and are not available on the internet.  From time to time I’ll provide summaries of some of the fascinating articles that I come across.  Today’s report, drawn from Autumn, 2010 publications, covers observations of free-living snakes, turtles and caimans.

Giant Meals…even for snakes!

Snakes are “big meal specialists”, but rarely consume animals larger than themselves.  However, a Southern Toad and a Spadefoot Toad, swallowed by different Eastern Hog-nosed Snakes, Heterodon platyrinos, each outweighed the snake by several grams!  Read More »

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