Puff Adder

Puff Adder
Setswana Name: 
Scientific Name: 
Bitis arietans

Size: 70-90cm; max. 120cm

It is part of the viper family. It has front hinged fangs that flick out with a strike. It has a cytotoxic venom, meaning it affects the cell structure of the victim. For a very sluggish moving snake It is one of the fastest striking snakes the manner in which it moves is called the concertina movement. Has some of the longest fangs in the snake kingdom.


This thick, heavily built snake has a large, flattened triangular head and large nostrils which point vertically upwards. The scales are heavily keeled, in 29-41 rows at midbody. The body is yellow-brown to light brown, with black, pale edged chevrons on the back and bars on the tail; sometimes the chevrons are lost in the general speckled colouring.

There are dark blotches on the crown of the head and between the eyes and two oblique bars from the eye to the lip. The belly is white or yellow wih a few scattered blotches. Unusual patterns are known to occur. Males are smaller than females and more brightly coloured than females.


This common adder is a sluggish snake. It emerges at dusk lying in cover and ambushing prey, which includes rodents and birds, and even other snakes and tortoises. It has effective camouflage. If disturbed, it adopts a striking posture and usually warns by giving a deep, hollow hiss. Once heard, it is not easily forgotten. It strokes readily. The puff adder normally moves in caterpuillar fashion, leaving a straight, deep track in the sand.

It can climb into low scrub to bask, particularly when gravid. It often swims and lies on warm roads at night. It lives for up to 14 years if it has plenty of warmth and sunshine. The venom is cytotoxic, often causing extensive swelling, pain and necrosis. Yeilds of venom are large (100-350mg) 100mg is fatal for a human being. The long fangs inject the venom deeply, and bites are usually inflicted on the lower leg. Bites are common, but only a small proportion of them are fatal, nevertheless its bites causes over 60% of serious bites in the region.

Death usually results from kidney failure and other complications caused by the extensive swelling. It is essential to treat victims as soon as possible after a bite.


Puff Adder is widely spread throughout Botswana.


Large litters, usually consisting of 20-40 young are born in the late summer months.