Bitis arietansPuff Adder

Geographic Range

Bitis arietans is found throughout Sub-Saharan Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. (Branch, 1998; Currier, 2012)


Puff adders are found in areas that meet certain requirements such as a permanent source of water, warm climate, and cover for the snake. This can include semi-arid deserts and rainforests, but more often the habitat of the Puff Adder is open forests, grasslands, and savannahs (Cansdale, 1961; Po, 2018) (Cansdale, 1961; Po, 2018)

  • Range elevation
    3500 (high) m
    11482.94 (high) ft

Physical Description

Puff adders are stocky snakes that rarely reach over a meter in length but have been known to reach up to 1.5 meters and weigh 4.5 to 6.8 kilograms. Females tend to have a slightly shorter tail than males, but otherwise the sexes are externally similar; additionally, Saudi Arabian specimens are shorter on average (0.7 meters rather than 0.8 meters average) and have slightly different venom composition. The Puff Adder has a thick, triangular shaped head and its 5-centimeter-long solenoglyphous fangs fold into the mouth on rotating maxillae. These fangs deliver a powerful hemotoxic venom that disrupts the formation of platelets and coagulation of blood. In order to blend in with sandy soil, the Puff Adder has brown or buff skin covered in keeled scales that vary in color from shades of brown to a reddish or melanistic tint. Dark and light chevrons pattern the snake’s dorsal side to break up the snake’s form against the ground. This patterning is particularly pronounced in lighter colored specimens. The ventral scutes of the snake tends to be much lighter than the dorsal scales and range from a cream color to a light-yellow hue (Branch, 1998; Cansdale, 1961; Currier, 2012; Po, 2018) (Branch, 1998; Cansdale, 1961; Currier, 2012; Po, 2018)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    4.5 to 6.8 kg
    9.91 to 14.98 lb
  • Range length
    1.5 (high) m
    4.92 (high) ft
  • Average length
    0.8 m
    2.62 ft


Fertilization is internal and male individuals fertilize females using a hemipene. Puff adders are viviparous and, upon birth, the young must feed and defend themselves. Individuals continue to feed and shed throughout their lives since growth is indeterminate. Growth rates in wild specimens have not been extensively studied, but in captive snakes growth occurs at an almost exponential level during juvenile phases, slowing after maturity (Po, 2018; Rosi, 1988). (Po, 2018; Rosi, 1988)


Mating typically occurs between October and December, and during this time males will fight over potential mates. Courtship can last up to an hour and displays entail the male following and tongue flicking at the female. Males then convulse and attempt to lift the females tail until they are able to climb on top of the female. Once on top of the female, males continue to writhe around until she either rejects him or opens her cloaca for mating. Intromission is internal via use of one of two of the male's hemipenes. Both sexes undulate their tales during the course of the courtship. Both males and females can have multiple mates. Females typically give birth in April and can have from 20-40 offspring at one time. (Branch, 1998; Po, 2018; Rosi, 1988) (Branch, 1998; Po, 2018; Rosi, 1988)

Mating typically occurs between October and December, and females typically give birth in April. Females can have from 20-40 offspring per litter, and have been known to expel unfertilized eggs while birthing the live offspring. Offspring have been found to weigh 14-25 grams at birth and be 23.5-25.5 cm in length, and males and females can be distinguished due to differences in tail length. Sexual maturity is reached at four years of age. (Branch, 1998; Po, 2018; Rosi, 1988) (Branch, 1998; Po, 2018; Rosi, 1988)

  • Breeding interval
    Puff Adders breed once yearly
  • Breeding season
  • Range number of offspring
    20 to 41
  • Range gestation period
    136 to 159 days
  • Average time to independence
    0 minutes
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    4 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    4 years

There is no known parental care in this species (Po, 2018) (Po, 2018)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female


The oldest captive puff adder lived almost 16 years, however it is likely that wild snakes would have a shorter life expectancy due to predation and lack of consistent food sources. There is insufficient data available to give an estimate as to expected life expectancy in wild specimens (Branch, 1998; Po, 2018) (Branch, 1998; Po, 2018)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    16 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    14 years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: captivity
    13 to 16 years


Puff adders are solitary ambush predators. They use tactics such as lingual and caudal luring to bring prey within striking distance. Puff adders use their strong hemotoxic venom to incapacitate prey without having to hold on to them, which prevents injury to the snake. This behavior is seen in almost all cases when the snake attempts to catch large prey, but small prey will sometimes be held in the mouth. When threatened, this species will hiss and puff up to appear larger, giving them their name (Clauss and Clauss, 2002; Glaudas and Alexander, 2017; Po 2018) (Clauss and Clauss, 2002; Glaudas and Alexander, 2017; Po, 2018)

Home Range

Not much information is available regarding the home range of the Puff Adder, but individuals tend to be fairly sessile and may lie in ambush in the same spot for several weeks. (Clauss and Clauss, 2002)

Communication and Perception

Puff adders use an array of senses to perceive their environment including tactile, chemical, vibrational, and heat. Chemical and heat signals are vital to determining when prey is near, and allows the snake to strike at the appropriate time. Upon encounters with other individuals, they display different behaviors depending on whether they feel threatened or are attempting to mate. Communication between potential mates is mostly tactile, as the male will purse the female using his head and tongue. If individuals sense a threat, they will communicate by giving a deep, hollow hiss and filling their throat with air. Before striking, the Puff Adder will assume an S-shaped posture, often the last warning before a strike occurs (Branch, 1988; Clauss and Clauss, 2002; Rosi, 1988) (Branch, 1998; Clauss and Clauss, 2002; Rosi, 1988)

Food Habits

Puff adders are carnivores, feeding almost exclusively on terrestrial vertebrates. The primary prey are rodents (Aethomys sp., Otomys sp., Rattus sp., Mastomys sp., g.Rhabdomys pumilio, Arvicanthis sp., Saccostomus campestris), but the Puff Adder will also feed on other reptiles (lizards, snakes, tortoises) and also has fed on birds, frogs (Schismaderma carens, Bufonidae), and small deer. The typical diet of juveniles includes small rodents, insects, and small toads or frogs (Miller et al., 2015; Po, 2018) (Miller, et al., 2015; Po, 2018)

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats terrestrial vertebrates
  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • amphibians
  • reptiles
  • insects


Puff adders avoid predation by using cryptic coloring, as their dorsal patterning helps them to blend in the with grassland and forest habitats that they are most often found in. Additionally, they utilize chemical crypsis to avoid predators who seek them out using olfaction. Finally, Puff Adders can use aggressive behaviors such as hissing and biting (with envenomation) to deter predators from attempting to predate them (Claus and Claus, 2002; Miller et al., 2015; Po, 2018) (Clauss and Clauss, 2002; Miller, et al., 2015; Po, 2018)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Puff Adders act as important predatory species in the ecosystems in which they are present, and are also prey to some other species. Puff Adder's prevent an overabundance of pest species such as rodents from decimating wild and agricultural plant species, and young snakes feed on insects that could cause similar problems (Po, 2018) (Po, 2018)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Puff adders are an important part of the ecosystem, and provide many benefits to humans. By controlling rodent populations, these snakes prevent pest populations from consuming the crops of farmers in the regions. Additionally, the venom of puff adders can be studied to determine whether it is viable as a medicine in the future (Currier, 2012; Po, 2018) (Currier, 2012; Po, 2018)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Puff adders are one of the most medically important African snake species because they are likely responsible for a large portion of the 32,000 snake bite deaths that occur in Africa annually. These snakes have an extremely hemotoxic venom that prevents formation of platelets in the bloodstream and also leads to extreme pain, swelling, and tissue necrosis. With the current antivenin crisis in Africa, the puff adders have the potential to cause significant harm to humans that they come into contact with (Currier, 2012) (Currier, 2012)

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans

Conservation Status

Puff adder populations are currently stable. They are not listed as a species in need of protection (IUCN Red List, 2018)


Ally Brown (author), Michigan State University, James Harding (editor), Michigan State University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

dominance hierarchies

ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates


a substance used for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature


union of egg and spermatozoan


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

indeterminate growth

Animals with indeterminate growth continue to grow throughout their lives.


(as keyword in perception channel section) This animal has a special ability to detect heat from other organisms in its environment.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


an animal which has an organ capable of injecting a poisonous substance into a wound (for example, scorpions, jellyfish, and rattlesnakes).


movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.


Toxinology, WHC. 2018. "Bitis arietans" (On-line). Clinical Toxinology Resources. Accessed December 09, 2018 at

Branch, B. 1998. Field guide to snakes and other reptiles of southern Africa. Sanibel Island, Florida: Ralph Curtis Publishing.

Cansdale, G. 1961. West African Snakes. United Kingdom: Longman Group.

Clauss, B., R. Clauss. 2002. Common Amphibians and Reptiles of Botswana. Windhoek, Namibia: Gamsberg Macmillan.


Glaudas, X., G. Alexander. 2017. "A lure at both ends - puff adders leave nothing to chance" (On-line). Accessed December 09, 2018 at

Miller, A., B. Maritz, S. McKay, X. Glaudas, G. Alexander. 2015. An ambusher's arsenal: chemical crypsis in the puff adder (Bitis arietans). Proceedings of Biological Science, 282(1821): 20152182. Accessed December 09, 2018 at

Po, 2018. "Puff Adder" (On-line). EOL. Accessed December 08, 2018 at

Rosi, R. 1988. THE BREEDING IN CAPTIVITY OF THE PUFF ADDER, BITIS ARIETANS. Litteratura Serpentium, 8(3): 123-133. Accessed December 09, 2018 at,%20The%20breeding%20in%20captivity%20of%20Bitis%20arietans.pdf.