Bothrops atroxBarba Amarilla, Fer-de-Lance, common lancehead

Geographic Range

The common lancehead (also called "fer de lance") is found in the tropical regions throughout Central and South America. There it is quite common in both wooded and open areas (Mattison, 1986).


The common lancehead is found throughout the forests of Central and South America. However, it has also been known to invade plantations in search of rodent prey (Phelps, 1981).

Physical Description

The common lancehead has many distinct features of the Viperidae family. The color of this snake can take on many shades for camouflage. It can be gray, brown, olive, or green. This snake also has large, dark, pale, margined triangles with points that meet on the dorsal line. The head is triangular (lance-shaped) and pointed. The common lancehead can grow up to 6.5 feet in length (Phelp, 1981).


The lancehead gives birth to live young. The litters can contain up to 80 babies that are about one foot long. They are born with venom glands and are still dangerous (Carnley, 1996).


  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    8.5 years


The lancehead is a hunter that relies on its camouflage to attack prey. The skin color blends in perfectly with the surroundings. Using the pit organs, it can deduce the position of its prey. This snake has also been known to be very aggressive. Conflicts with people have occurred due to its habit of lying in walking trails in wait of prey as well as invading plantations in search of rodent prey (Mattison, 1986).

Food Habits

When young, these snakes feed on lizards and arthropods. The food habits of the adult snake consist of mainly small mammals, which include opossums, birds, lizards, and smaller snakes (Carnley, 1996) To detect their warm blooded prey, these snakes rely on their pit organ located between the eye and nostril. This organ relays thermal information to the snake about the position of their prey (Encarta, 1999).

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Common lanceheads have economic importance in the production of anti-venom to treat bites. They also control populations of rodents, which are important crop pests. (Phelps, 1981)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Locals fear Bothrop atrox because of its aggressive reputation and venomous bite. Overall, it is responsible for the majority of venomous snakebites within its forest range. The problem lies in the tendencies of the snake's prey to exploit agricultural land. The common lancehead is a primary concern for plantation and agricultural workers.(Mattison, 1986).

Conservation Status

Bothrops atrox is a quite common snake throughout forested and agricultural land (Phelps, 1981).

Other Comments

The common lancehead is often mistakenly referred as the fer-de-lance. The local name for this snake is the Barba amarilla. The true fer-de-lance lives in the West Indies (Mattison, 1986).


Jason DeGroot (author), Michigan State University, James Harding (editor), Michigan State University.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

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

native range

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


1999. Viperidae. Encarta Encyclopedia (CD rom). Redmond: Microsoft Corporation.

Carnley, M. 1996. "Amazon Adventure" (On-line). Accessed November 10, 1999 at

Mattison, C. 1986. Snakes of the World. United Kingdom: Blandford Press.

Phelps, T. 1981. Poisonous Snakes. United Kingdom: Blandford Press.