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Meet the attractive Gaboon adder

The Gaboon adder is one of the most colourful and attractive snakes in Africa, but is so camouflaged in its natural environment that it is rarely seen. While highly venomous, it rarely bites, says Johan Marais of the African Snakebite Institute

The colourful Gaboon adder is a large and robust snake that rarely grows longer than 1.2m in South Africa, but gets much larger in East Africa. Its body is covered in beautiful shades of dark and light brown, buff, purple and pink with velvety brown hourglass markings down the back. The head is lightly coloured with two dark triangles on either side extending from the eye to the upper jaw.

In southern Africa, this snake inhabits the thickly wooded lowland forest and moist savanna from Mtunzini in KwaZulu- Natal northwards along the coast to Richards Bay, St Lucia and into Mozambique and eastern Zimbabwe. They are also spotted further north. Sadly, much of this snake’s natural habitat around St Lucia has been destroyed and individuals are often poached by snake collectors. The Gaboon adder is protected throughout South Africa and is listed in TOPS (Threatened or Protected Species) legislation.

Despite its size, this beautiful snake is rarely seen except perhaps while crossing roads at night. It is most active at night and prefers to bask during the day. In leaf litter, it is near impossible to see. It is a huge, sluggish snake, and compared with the puff adder, it is surprisingly placid and rarely bites. When disturbed, it will emit a series of deep, drawn-out hisses and may lift the forepart of the body off the ground with the top of the head angled towards the aggressor. Even then, it will rarely strike, which is fortunate as it has the longest fangs of any snake in the region and twice the amount of venom of a puff adder. Its venom is predominantly cytotoxic, causing pain, swelling and subsequent tissue damage. In the past, it was often stated that Gaboon adder venom is neurotoxic like that of the black mamba, but this is not the case.

The Gaboon adder is an ambush hunter and will locate a mammal trail with its forked tongue and then wait for its prey. This may take days or even weeks. It favours rodents, hares, ground birds and toads, but is known to feed on monkeys and duikers. It will strike out rapidly and hang onto its prey.

Females give birth to as many as 30 live young in late summer with the babies measuring 25-32cm in length. Males are known to engage in male combat and will twist around one another in somewhat of a wrestling match. Cross-breeding between different snakes is rare in wild snakes, but in 1972 a single puff adder-Gaboon adder hybrid, measuring 1.2m, was found near Mtubatuba. Though highly venomous and extremely dangerous, not a single Gaboon adder bite has been recorded in recent years.

About the ASI

The African Snakebite Institute (ASI) is the leading training provider of Snake Awareness, First-Aid for Snakebite and Venomous Snake Handling courses in Africa. These courses are presented by Johan Marais, one of Africa’s leading herpetologists with over 40 years of experience, in conjunction with Luke Kemp, a zoology graduate who has been working at ASI for the past four years.

Besides their public and corporate training courses, ASI provides additional educational information, interesting reads and various tips in newsletters, articles, posters and other documents on their website. They are the largest distributors of snake handling equipment on the continent and have developed a free app that includes first-aid information, snake identification features, snake removal information and more.



Product enquiries: +27 60 957 2713

Course enquiries: +27 73 186 9176

Snakebite emergencies: +27 82 494 2039.

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