Gaboon viper

Gaboon viper has the largest fangs and highest venom yield of any snake on earth

Holger Krisp

A species known for its remarkable docility, impressive physical characteristics, and potent venom. It is the heaviest viper in Africa and is distinguished by its broad, leaf-shaped head and strikingly intricate pattern that superbly mimics the forest floor, making it a master of camouflage.

Despite their size and the potency of their venom, gaboon vipers are known to have a very calm disposition. They are so calm that they often do not strike even when stepped upon, preferring to rely on their exceptional ability to remain undetected. If they feel threatened, they may warn by audible hissing, which is achieved by expelling air through their nostrils.

These snakes are native to the rainforests of sub-Saharan Africa, where they spend much of their time motionless, partially buried in the leaf litter. This cryptic behavior allows them to ambush prey, including small mammals like rodents, birds, lizards, and frogs.

An interesting aspect of the gaboon viper’s behavior is its ability to control envenomation. When it does bite, it can choose not to inject venom, a phenomenon known as a “dry bite,” or it can deliver a varying quantity of venom depending on the situation. This ability is crucial, as their venom yield is one of the largest of any snake, and full envenomation can result in severe consequences, including rapid fatality.

Despite their fearsome reputation, encounters with humans are rare due to the viper’s secretive nature and preference for undisturbed habitats. However, when bites do occur, they are medical emergencies due to the complex nature of the venom, which has both necrotic and hemotoxic effects.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
Angola
2019
Benin
2019
Congo-Brazzaville
2019
DR Congo (Kinshasa)
2019
Gabon
2019
Kenya
2019
Mozambique
2019
Nigeria
2019
South Africa
2019
Kwazulu-Natal
South Sudan
2019
Tanzania
2019
Uganda
2019
Zambia
2019
Zimbabwe
2019

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No