Perhaps the most common and widespread African snake, the puff adder adapts to both moist and arid climates, but not to the extremes of desert or rain forest. It is one of the biggest vipers, with a girth of up to 9 in (23 cm), and can inflate its body even more when about to strike. Its fangs are about 1/2 in (1.25 cm) long, and the venom causes hemorrhaging in the victim.
Primarily a ground-living snake, the sluggish puff adder relies on its cryptic pattern and coloration to conceal it from both enemies and potential prey. It occasionally climbs into trees and is a good swimmer. Ground-living mammals, such as rats and mice, and birds, lizards, frogs and toads are its main prey.
The puff adder is very aggressive and will bite with only the slightest provocation. The venom is a cytotoxin and begins to break down the body tissue in the region of the bite. That area swells and fills with liquid and becomes excruciatingly painful. A large adult puff adder will inject three times the amount needed to kill an adult human with each bite. The venom is slow acting, however. The destruction of tissue spreads slowly through the body and takes more than 24 hours to cause death, which is often caused by vital body fluids draining from the damaged tissue. If antivenin drugs are not administered quickly, even non-fatal injuries to the body can be permanent.
The puff adder is a large snake, despite being relatively short. The body is very bulky and this is made all the more apparent when the snake inflates its body to scare off potential threats. The dark grey chevrons on the sandy background provide the snake with excellent camouflage as it slithers slowly through dry grasses in search of prey.
Male puff adders tend to be smaller and more brightly coloured than the females. The females are large because they produce the largest litters of any live-bearing snake: it is not uncommon for 40 babies to emerge in one go. The maximum recorded is 154 for a single adder.
Distribution: Most of sub-Saharan Africa.
Habitat: Grasslands. Uncommon in forests.
Food: Small mammals.
Size: 1 m (3.25 ft).
Maturity: 3 - 4 years.
Breeding: Females release a scent to attract males. The males wrestle each other for access to mates. After mating, 20 - 40 young are born in a single litter in summer.
Life span: Unknown.