Interesting Facts About Africa’s Deadliest Vipers

Africa’s vipers are the most venomous in the world. These snakes are found across the Saharan deserts and rainforests.

Jul 7, 2023byLisa Szymanski
facts about africas deadliest vipers

Africa is home to the most dangerous vipers in the world. Belonging to the family Viperidae, these snakes have long, hollow fangs, broad bodies, and incredible camouflage. Some of the most feared African vipers include the Gaboon Viper, Puff Adder, Bush Viper, and the beautiful but venomous Rhinoceros Viper. They are the fastest-striking snakes with cytotoxic and hemotoxic venom.

African Vipers are responsible for causing the most snake bite deaths in humans compared to any other genus. Let’s get to know these fascinating reptiles by looking at a few interesting facts about Africa’s deadliest vipers.

1. Gaboon Viper (Bitis gabonica)

gaboon viper in forest
The Gaboon Viper perfectly blends in with the forest floor

The notorious Gaboon Viper is the largest viper in Africa, reaching a length of 6 ft. They are known as Gaboon Adders, Butterfly Adders, and Forest Puff Adders. What makes these snakes so impressive is the size of their fangs, at 2 inches long. A Gaboon Adder possesses the longest curved fangs and venom sacs of any snake in the world. Their fangs are so long, they can bite through their bottom jaw to evade a threat.

This Forest Puff Adder has a cytotoxic and hemotoxic venom that attacks the body’s circulatory system, eventually causing respiratory paralysis. Gaboon Vipers are considered the deadliest vipers in Africa, as only 100 mg of this snake’s venom is lethal to humans. However, some Gaboon Vipers inject up to 1000 mg of venom in a single bite.

2. West African Carpet Viper (Echis ocellatus)

carpet viper in desert
The West African Carpet Viper is ready to strike

The West African Carpet Viper belongs to the Echis genus of snakes, of which there are 12 species. These include the Egyptian Saw-Scaled Viper and the African Saw-Scaled Viper. Carpet Vipers live in the dry regions of North Africa, India, Sri Lanka, and the Middle East. These snakes reach a length of 12 to 35 inches, are highly venomous, and are among the fastest-striking vipers in the world.

Cytotoxic venom produced by Carpet Vipers causes blistering, pain, and tissue damage. The West African Viper is responsible for many fatal snake bites every year and frequently hides near human settlements to ambush their prey.

3. Puff Adder (Bitis arietans)

puff adder camouflage
The Puff Adder is a deadly African viper

Puff Adders owe their name to their ability to puff up their bodies and hiss when they feel threatened. Bitis Arietans is found across Africa, Morocco, and Western Arabia and is feared for its cytotoxic venom that attacks the tissues and blood. What makes these adders so unique is their strike rate of a tenth of a second, which is the fastest of any snake on the planet! This genus will strike forward and sideways but cannot strike backward.

Adults reach a size of 4 ft and use their camouflage and scent masking to avoid detection by predators. Puff Adders frequently come into contact with humans and account for the most snake bite fatalities in Africa.

4. African Bush Viper (Atheris squamigera)

african bush viper in tree
The African Bush Viper ready to ambush its preyThe African Bush Viper ready to ambush its prey

The African Bush Viper is a small snake reaching only 29 inches at maturity but packs a powerful bite. Envenomation by Atheris squamigera is mostly hemotoxic and potentially fatal. Surprisingly, there is no antivenom for the African Bush Viper.

What differentiates these vipers from other snake species is their keeled scales that stand away from their bodies, giving them a rough and dragon-like appearance.

Found in the forests of Central Africa, Bush Vipers are described as arboreal and are the only vipers to live in trees. These snakes are ambush predators and use their prehensile tails to hang from a tree, waiting to strike their prey.

5. Rhinoceros Viper (Bitis nasicornis)

rhinoceros viper snout
The horns on the snout of the Rhino viper are upright scales

The Rhinoceros Viper owes its name to the 2-4 horn-like scales located on the top of its snout, reminiscent of the Rhinoceros. Known as the Horned Puff Adder, River Jack Snake, and Butterfly Snake, they are found in West and Central Africa.

Rhinoceros Vipers are considered the most beautiful of all vipers, with a pattern of blue, yellow, and red markings from head to tail. Despite the stocky size of this snake, they can climb up trees and strike quickly. The Rhino Viper is highly poisonous, and the venom is anticoagulant, affecting the blood.

6. Saharan Horned Viper (Cerastes cerastes)

saharan horned viper eyes
Desert Horned Vipers are unique in appearance

The Saharan or Desert Horned Viper is a fascinating species of viper as they possess two moveable horns that protrude just above the eyes. The horns are scales that appear intimidating, but these snakes are not aggressive and prefer to burrow in the desert sand to ambush their prey. At 24 inches, they are among the smallest African vipers, however, a bite from this genus of a snake will cause swelling, necrosis, and hemorrhaging.

Saharan Vipers are native to the arid regions of North Africa and the Middle East. They move sideways across the sand, similar to the American Sidewinder, and are often called the Desert Sidewinding Viper.

7. Saharan Viper (Cerastes vipera)

saharan sand viper in desert
The Saharan Viper is perfectly suited to its desert habitat

Saharan or Desert Vipers possess 8 different venom fractions that are based on their geographical location. Similar in appearance to the Saharan Horned Viper, the Saharan Sand Viper has a potent hemorrhagic venom that is toxic to the blood cells.

Desert Vipers are found across North Africa, including Egypt, Israel, and Sudan. These snakes are both terrestrial and ambush hunters, easily camouflaged by their tan color in the desert sand. The females of this viper species are larger than the males and are identified by their black-tipped tails.

The bottom line is that Africa’s dangerous vipers possess the most potent venom of all snakes in the world. As adept hunters, they use their unique camouflage, rapid strike, and fast-acting venom to overcome their prey.

Lisa Szymanski
byLisa Szymanski

Lisa is a wildlife enthusiast who enjoys hiking and gardening and has four years of experience volunteering at pet shelters. She is the proud mom of two dogs, a Pitbull named Ragnar, a Boerboel named Blueberry, and four feisty chickens, or as she calls them, the \"queens of the yard,\" Goldie, Gray, Peaches, and Brownie.