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Gaboon adder (The Gaboon Viper)

Updated: May 6, 2023

The Gaboon viper (Bitis gabonica) is a large and highly venomous snake in sub-Saharan Africa's rainforests and savannas. It is known for its impressive size, distinctive appearance, and potent venom.


Gaboon viper (Bitis gabonica)

Here are some key features and facts about the Gaboon viper:


Appearance: The Gaboon Viper is one of the most giant vipers in the world. It can reach lengths of up to 5 to 6 feet (1.5 to 1.8 meters), although some individuals have been recorded to be even longer. It has a stout and heavy body with a triangular-shaped head, characteristic of vipers. Its coloration varies, but it typically has a pattern of dark brown or black patches on a pale yellow, gray, or brown background. The most striking feature of the Gaboon viper is its extensive, broad, and heavily keeled scales, which give it a rough appearance.

The Gaboon viper’s venom is strong enough to kill six people at once. ©Danita Delimont/Shutterstock.com

Venom: The Gaboon viper possesses one of the most potent venoms among all snake species. It has long, hollow fangs in the front of its mouth that can fold back when not used. When it bites, the fangs extend and inject venom into its prey. The venom of the Gaboon viper is primarily hemotoxic, meaning it affects the blood and tissues of its victims. It contains a potent mix of toxins that can cause severe pain, swelling, tissue damage, and even death if left untreated.


Diet and hunting: The Gaboon viper is an ambush predator that primarily feeds on small to medium-sized mammals, such as rodents, rabbits, and small primates. It has a unique hunting strategy where it relies on its excellent camouflage to blend in with the surroundings and waits for unsuspecting prey to come close. The Gaboon viper can deliver a lightning-fast bite with remarkable accuracy when the game comes within striking distance, thanks to its susceptible heat-sensing pits between its eyes and nostrils.


Habitat and distribution: Gaboon vipers are found in sub-Saharan Africa's tropical rainforests, swamps, and savannas. They have a wide distribution, ranging from countries like Senegal and Guinea in the west to Uganda and Kenya in the east. However, they are most commonly found in the equatorial rainforests of Central Africa.


Behavior and temperament: Gaboon vipers are generally docile and non-aggressive snakes. They prefer to rely on their camouflage and avoid confrontation whenever possible. However, if threatened or cornered, they can become defensive and strike quickly and accurately. In addition, their large size, potent venom, and long fangs make them dangerous to humans. Therefore, caution should be exercised when encountering them in the wild.

The bushmaster is the longest pit viper in the world, while the Gaboon viper is the largest viper in Africa. ©iStock.com/reptiles4all

The comparision between the Gaboon and the Bushmaster has many items Bushmasters are regarded as the longest pit vipers in the world. On average, they can grow between 78 to 120 inches but have also been known to be over 12 feet in length and weight up to 10 pounds. On the other hand, Gaboon vipers can attain a length of 7 feet but measure 32.0 to 51.5 inches (2.7 to 4.3 feet) on average. This makes them much shorter than bushmasters. However, while bushmasters trump Gaboon vipers length-wise, bushmasters are much lighter than Gaboon vipers in weight. Gaboon vipers are regarded as the largest vipers in Africa and weigh from 15.0 to 45 pounds.

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