Vipers are a family of snakes, which includes some of the most feared species such as rattlesnakes and adders. The scientific name of the species is Viperidae, and there are over 300 recognized species in the world!
Danger to Humans:
All vipers have long fangs and are venomous. A bite from a viper could be deadly, but how dangerous a bite depends on if the bite was wet (with venom) or dry (without venom).
Lucky for humans, many vipers will “dry bite” in order to conserve their venom. Regardless, anyone bitten by a viper should receive immediate medical attention.
The only continents vipers cannot live on are Australia and Antarctica. They are found nearly everywhere else worldwide, so their habitat is varied. They can live in fields, deserts, mountains, and rainforests. Vipers found in hotter, more tropical areas are more venomous than those found in colder climates.
The largest viper in the world is the Gaboon viper, which can reach lengths of 7 feet and weigh up to 22 pounds. Although the Gaboon viper is the largest because of its weight, it is not the longest. The South American bushmaster is the longest measuring up to 11 feet! The smallest vipers reach lengths about 2 feet long.
The coloration of the vipers varies greatly. Some are dull colors, like brown or black, while others are more vibrant in shades of yellow, green, pink, and even purple!
The reason for the many shades is the type of habitat the viper lives in. Vipers rely heavily on camouflage, so blending into their surroundings is essential to their survival.
Vipers are most well known for their extremely long fangs. Not only are they long and hollow, but they are also rotatable and hinged. This allows the fangs to grow longer than most other snakes because the viper can simply fold them up into the roof of their mouth when not in use!
The fangs can be rotated together as a pair or separately. This is a neat trick to have since a viper can open its mouth to 180 degrees, which would be similar to a straight line! The Gaboon viper has the longest fangs, up to 2 inches, of any snake in the world!
Vipers target small mammals, warm-blooded animals, as prey, such as rats and mice. However, they also eat lizards and eggs.
Vipers are considered to be very slow when compared to other snakes, but they are also master ambushers! They are not active hunters, but will instead wait on the prey to come by and then attack. They also practice something called prey relocation. This means they will bite the prey, allow it to wander away and die, and then track the prey using their strong sense of smell.
- Special Adaptations: Two interesting types of vipers, the horned viper, and the eyelash pit viper have interesting scales around their eyes. The horned viper, as the name suggests, has a horn-like scale that can be found either on its nose or above its eye. Scientists believe the horned scale is there as a form of camouflage or to protect its eyes from getting sand in them. All horned vipers are found in dry, sandy habitats. Interestingly enough, not all horned vipers have horns. A single clutch, or group, of babies, will have both babies with horns and those without. The other viper with a special adaptation is the eyelash pit viper, which has prickly scales over its eyes that resemble eyelashes. Scientists believe these help protect the snake as it moves through dense, brushy vegetation.
- Reproduction: Most vipers deliver babies through a live birthing process. However, there are some species of vipers that are egg layers. The number of babies and incubation period differ greatly among the different species.
- Conservation Status: Although vipers contain many species, several are listed as Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered, or Critically Endangered. Some species are also listed as Extinct or Extinct in the Wild. Island species, such as the golden lancehead and the Santa Catalina rattlesnake, are the rarest and face declining populations due to overcollection for scientific or other purposes.
Striking Statements of Fact:
- Although not a fast snake in body speed, vipers are extremely fast biters. They can bite faster than a person can even see!
- Gaboon vipers have been found to have small antelopes in their stomachs!