Puff Adder – Bitis Arietans

Out and about on the farm today, we saw this big puffy.


Puffy’s are seen fairly often on our farm. but are not a problem. They much prefer to keep to the quieter spots with no interference from man nor beast. So we live in harmony for the most part. If we find one too close for comfort, middle son catches and releases them away from harm. He’s a trained Field Guide (Game Ranger) who knows exactly how to do this.

3 articles about this beautiful, deadly snake

One of the Deadliest Snakes in the World

* Puff Adder Bites Are Deadly Serious

When most people think of deadly snakes in Africa, the black mamba, cobras and various other snakes come to mind. Ironically, the puff adder and the Egyptian cobra kill more people in Africa than any other snakes. Puff adders often are not even mentioned in a list of dangerous African snakes and that is a huge oversight. The black mamba is certainly the fancy pick, but the puff adder is the more functional one. They bite more people and therefore kill more. Here are some great facts about the puff adder you may not have known:

Puff Adder Habitat

The puff adder can be found over the vast majority of Africa with exception to the north. Unlike many other venomous reptiles, they are not usually found amongst the woodlands. They prefer to hang out in the grasslands. They are right at home in the dry grass and use their camouflage to ambush their prey.

Puff Adder Venom and Danger to Humans

Puff adder snake venom is a cytotoxin. This means that the venom breaks down tissue and spreads slowly to the rest of the body. The bite of a puff adder is usually a long and slow break down of the body if you have no medical attention. This can take up to 24 hours for the effects to take hold, and once they do they are hard to reverse. Puff adders are not the most venomous snakes in the world, but they are highly aggressive biters and are around people more than some of their brethren. The slightest thing will cause a puff adder to strike, whereas many other snakes are simply likely to slither away if they are close by.

Puff Adder Identification

The puff adder is a fat snake but relatively short at only 3 feet or so. It has a sandy base color with dark chevron patterns up and down its body. The pattern is very good at blending in to their surroundings and a great many people never see the puff adder until they are upon it. Females are larger than males due to the fact that they have huge numbers of live babies when they breed.

Puff Adder Feeding

The puff adder is an ambush hunter that will strike out from nowhere to secure their food. They do this by striking from cover. Once the bite is delivered, they track the prey and swallow it whole. Puff adders are fond of any small mammal that they can swallow.

Puff Adder Breeding

One fascinating fact about puff adders is that they produce more live young than any other snake. The males often fight over a female that is ready to breed. Once bred, the female may bear as many as 40 little puff adders in one batch. Many more have been recorded as well.

Published by Rodney Southern

* Habits

A slow-moving, bad-tempered and excitable snake that may hiss or puff when disturbed.When annoyed, it strikes vigorously in all directions and has the capability of a lightning-fast sideways strike without withdrawing the head. Fortunately it often gives warning of its intentions by hissing noisily.It relies on its perfect camouflage to escape detection and will rather freeze than move off. Moves in caterpillar fashion leaving straight deep track in the sand.

Puff adders make splendid rat-traps.  A veld-rat was observed scurrying along a grass track; within seconds there was a thud, followed by anguished squeaks which soon ended. On investigation, it was noticed that the rat’s tail was protruding from the mouth of the puff adder, which had cunningly parked on the rodent track to snap up the ones that never look where they are going. The snake deposited the rat and inspected it, possibly wondering if the speedy catch was palatable. A second puff-adder appeared on the path and seized the rear-end of the rat and started swallowing, much to the chagrin of the first puff adder which quickly grabbed the rat’s head and commenced gulping towards its competitor. As internasal distance narrowed and neither snake was prepared to yield, their respective snouts soon met at mid-body. Number one gave an enormous gulp, encompassing most of his opponent’s head. An intense struggle followed but gradually the challenger was painfully persuaded to follow the rat down a very different path.


Rats, mice, small mammals, ground birds.


Bears 20-40 young in Summer, 150-200mm long


Man, honey badgers, warthogs, birds-of-prey and other snakes.


The name ‘puff adder’ stems from the snake’s habit of inflating itself and hissing when threatened. The noise produced is a menacing hissing sound and should be construed as a strong warning! The snake itself is rather sluggish and generally moves in a rectilinear motion, or straight line (like a caterpillar), as opposed to the serpentine motion exhibited by most other snakes. It does however possess one of the fastest strikes of all snakes and should be respected at all times! It is easily recognised by its stumpy appearance, only growing to a maximum of about 1 meter in length, the chevron-like markings on its back and a large, triangular shaped head.

The puff adder is responsible for more bites (and therefore fatalities) in South Africa than any other snake, even though other snakes have higher venom yields. The reasons for this are simple: it is very adaptable, is found in multiple, varied habitats and it is one of the few lazy snakes. Snakes do not have ears but they are able to sense the vibrations caused by footsteps and will quickly disappear before their presence is even detected. The puff adder however, is a slow moving snake and prefers to rely on its brilliant camouflage to remain unseen. It is possible therefore, to find yourself in close proximity to the snake and should you accidentally surprise it by treading on it for example, or put it in a position where it feels the need to defend itself, the rest is self-explanatory


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