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353

Gaboon viper

OLogy Series
animal
card
353

Gaboon viper

OLogy Series
animal

There are more than 250 kinds of vipers, a family of venomous snakes. The largest of all is the Gaboon viper. At six feet long, this massive viper is a ferocious predator that hunts birds, frogs, and many small mammals in the tropical forests of Africa. When the Gaboon viper strikes, its huge fangs deliver a toxic venom that destroys its victim's nerves, tissues, and blood cells. Its prey escapesÂ… but not for long.

Like other vipers, the Gaboon viper stores its venom:

in its fangs

in its stomach

in a gland behind its eyes

Are you right?

Correct!

Venom is made and stored in a venom gland behind its eyes. When the snake strikes, a muscle behind the gland contracts, and the venom shoots from the gland into the hollow fangs.

The scales of the Gaboon viper form a distinct symmetrical pattern of brown, black, yellow, and silver. This pattern serves to:

camouflage the viper in its forest habitat

mimic the scales of an even more poisonous snake

warn other animals that it's poisonous

Are you right?

Correct!

The pattern helps the Gaboon viper blend in and hide among the dead leaves on the forest floor. Many poisonous animals do have bright colors to warn predators, but the Gaboon viper IS the predator!

The venom of the Gaboon viper consists of a single deadly toxin.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fiction

Like most viper venom, the Gaboon viper's is a mix of different toxins: nerve poisons, muscle-destroying poisons, and blood poisons.

Viper toxins that damage blood cells have led to important medicines.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

Hemotoxins prevent blood from clotting, so victims can't stop bleeding. But these same toxins have led to anti-clotting drugs that keep the blood flowing during medical procedures.

A Gaboon viper's long fangs are usually folded up inside its mouth.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

When it opens its mouth to strike, the bone to which the fang is attached swings up and out -- and the fang pops out.

Scientific name: Bitis gabonica
Range: tropical Africa
Characteristics: poisonous venom; massive body with bold, symmetrical scale pattern; prominent "horn" above its mouth
Size: 1.8 meters (6 ft); 10 kilograms (22 lbs)
Diet: small mammals
Cool Fact: The pupils of its eyes are vertical -- one clue that this snake is active at night.

Image credits: © AMNH.