Range: Tropical Central Africa, equatorial belt.
Habitat: Grasslands to densely forested jungle. The Gaboon Viper prefers leaf litter for hiding.
Natural Diet: Rodents and ground dwelling birds.
Diet at RainForest: Pre-killed rodents
Size: 36-60", Extremely heavy bodied snake, an average 60" long snake may be as heavy bodied as a 12' python.
RainForest Facts: This species of snake is recognized to have the largest fangs of any living snake. Fangs of up to two inches have been observed. As is the case with many viper species, including North American pit vipers such as the Rattlesnake, the fangs of the Gaboon Viper are retractable and remain folding against the roof of the mouth while the snake is at rest. The fangs are brought down via muscles in the skull when the snake makes a strike. The speed with which the Gaboon viper strikes is truly remarkable.
A ground dwelling snake, the Gaboon Viper is an ambush predator. Often positioning itself along the edges of rodent or other small animal trails in the densely forested regions of east and west, central Africa. The Gaboon Viper seems to have the ability to "dig in" to the leaf litter in a similar fashion to a flounder fish digging into the first few centimeters of the sand. This additional use of the leaf litter renders this animal virtually invisible to potential prey items.
Possessing some of the most cryptically colored scales of any living snake, the Gaboon is extremely well adapted to hide in the leaf litter for its next meal.
Even the head of the Gaboon viper is shaped and colored like a fallen leaf. This incredible ability to hide has presented many a challenge for naturalists in the field. Field biologists and researchers can often be standing within inches of this snake without even knowing the animal is present.
A live-bearer, viviparous, the Gaboon viper can give birth to as many as 60 young per litter, though the average is much smaller; 15-25 is an average size litter. Unlike their close cousin the Puff Adder, this species is not known to produce extremely large litters of live young.
The new born snakes are able to fend for themselves almost immediately. After a post-natal shed, usually within 5-7 days, the babies begin to hunt for their first meal. The babies are born at about 12-14 inches in length with fully developed fangs and venom glands. A typical first meal for this species of snake is small mice or shrews.
The adults have been documented eating small mammals as large as rabbits! This type of meal would be typically reserved for large constrictors, but the Gaboon Viper has an extremely large head for its relative body length, and as a result can consume very large prey items.
Conversely, living overhead in the same tropical forest is the Green Mamba, a mamba of similar length to a Gaboon viper would be lucky to eat a large mouse compared to the large rabbit eaten by the Gaboon!
The bite of the Gaboon Viper is similar in nature to the North American Rattlesnakes. A hemotoxic snake, the Gaboon's bite results in hemorrhaging and tissue loss in the area bitten. To small prey items ,such as rodents, the dose is lethal within seconds.
Status in Wild: Accurate assessments of the remaining wild populations are difficult to obtain. In certain geographical areas it is assumed the animal has been expatriated. Human development for housing and agriculture appear to take a heavy toll on this species.
While certain species of animals can co-exist, and in fact seem to fare better with human development, the Gaboon viper does not appear to be such a species. Loss of undisturbed habitat appears to have a very negative impact on this animal. The future in the wild of the Gaboon Viper is uncertain.
This species is not currently on exhibit at RainForest