Gaboon Viper

The Gaboon viper, sometimes known as the Gabon viper, is a forest species. Its pattern of purple and brown diamonds and zigzags provides excellent camouflage among the deep leaf litter of the African rainforest. It is found chiefly in the Congo Basin, but also lives in the forests that grow along the southern coast of West Africa.

This viper hunts at night. It is the heaviest snake in Africa and Europe and so never climbs into trees. Instead, it lies motionless in an ambush for small mammals, lizards and the occasional bird to come within reach. Victims receive a huge dose of venom through the viper's mighty fangs. The venom is weaker than many African vipers, but the size of the dose means that it is likely to be deadly if no medical treatment is received. To service such large fangs, the snake needs to have equally large venom glands. These are located inside the head behind the eyes. This arrangement produces the arrow-shaped heads of vipers and is the reason for the broad triangular-shaped head of the Gaboon viper.

The Gaboon viper is the largest of all viper species. Some other species may grow longer but none achieves the size of the Gaboon viper. The snake has an extremely broad, arrow-shaped head, which contains large venom glands. The viper's fangs are the longest of any snake at 4cm (1.5 in) long.

Gaboon vipers mate during the rainy season - for this reason, captive breeders are able to stimulate their pets into action by spraying them with water. The young develop inside their mother for seven months. Up to 60 baby vipers are born in a single litter, although a third of that is normal. The newborn babies are 30 cm (12 in) long.

Distribution: Central and West Africa.

Habitat: Forest.

Food: Rodents, birds and frogs.

Size: 1.20 m (4 ft).

Maturity: 3 - 4 years.

Breeding: About 20 young born every 2 - 3 years.

Life span: Unknown.

Status: Common.

Gallery of Gaboon Viper