Snakes alive – a Horned Adder!

Being avid hikers and birders, Rob and I spend many hours walking outdoors and a snake that we have come across a number of times in Namibia is the Horned Adder (species – Bitis caudalis).  This last weekend was no exception – I almost stepped on one of these little fellows as we were walking along a rocky road.  Thank goodness for the uneven surface, because it meant that I needed to look where I was placing my feet – I most definitely would have trodden on the snake if I hadn’t been watching my step.

Coiled and ready to strike

Horned Adders are not that big as snakes go, being between 250 and 400 mm in length.  Our latest find was a very young snake, we could hardly discern its little horns.

Coaxing with a stick

The venom of Horned Adders is mildly cytotoxic, causing necrosis, pain and swelling.  Their fangs are situated in the front of their mouths and are quite large.  Interestingly enough, small snakes are purported to be more poisonous than large snakes of their own species, the reason being that small venomous snakes inject all their poison at once when biting a victim, as opposed to adult snakes that limit the venom delivered with each bite so that they can strike more than once.  So it’s not the potency of the venom that counts here, but the amount of venom delivered in each bite that causes the damage.

Beautiful skin patterns

Their skin colours and patterns vary according to their geographical situation.  We’ve noticed differences in snakes found in various locations in Namibia.  The specimens found here are much lighter than those found in the central Cape, which are greyer and a dark olive brown colour.

An adult Horned Adder

We were worried that this snake would be run over by a passing car, so Rob tried to coax it of the road with a stick.  It immediately coiled up and faced him, hissing loudly.  Eventually he managed to persuade it to move off and it slid away – looking very much like a side-winder the way it shuffled away.

The horns are clearly visible above the eyes

These snakes eat small rodents, birds, lizards and frogs.  They breed in summer and normally have up to eight young ones (and sometimes a lot more).  They’re easy to recognize as their heads are triangular with a single horn over each eye.

Acknowledgements :  A Guide to the Reptiles of Southern Africa – Graham Alexander & Johan Marais

 

 

 

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