Everything you Need to Know about Vipers (Viperinae)

An Introduction to the Viperinae and a closer look at the Gaboon Vipers

Vipers are probably among the most misunderstood animals on this planet. Few other creatures have so many myths and tales ranked around them and are the subject to so many prejudices and misconceptions.

Their shape and often astounding colors have fascinated humans for millennia and they continue to be some of the most mythical and fascinating animals on earth. They are often portrayed as vicious, mean and killer creatures when in fact, they are the exact opposite; living remote and hidden lives with no intent get in any sort of confrontation.

On this page, I will introduce this fascinating genus of snakes to you, including the classification, venom apparatus, venom composition and a special view on my favourite species of vipers, the gaboon vipers, Bitis gabonica/rhinoceros.

Macrovipera schweizeri
Two beautiful Macrovipera schweizeri resting on a branch

Classification and basic Information

Vipers are separated into 4 main subfamilies, the Viperinae, Crotalinae, Causinae, and Azemiopinae. This page will focus only on the subfamily Viperinae. The other subfamilies will be introduced separately.

The Viperinae include 66 species distributed across 12 Genera. Generally, they are short and stout bodies snakes with a characteristic triangular head shape and about 50cm – 120cm in length. Some species however, like the Gaboon Viper (Bitis rhinoceros) can reach and impressive length of 2 m. These massive snakes are the largest of all Vipers, they have the longest snake fangs in the world (up to 5 cm when fully grown) and can deliver the largest quantity of venom (500mg) of any snake in the world.

Cerastes Cerastes - horned sand vipers
Cerastes Cerastes – sand vipers, Burried in the sand in ambush position

Old World Vipers are mostly ambush predators, which means that they can sit in the same spot for many days and wait their prey to pass by.

Snakes mostly rely on their sense of smell to detect their prey. By regularly tasting the air with their tongue, they will recognize prey approaching, even at night.

Once close enough, they will strike at an incredible speed and usually hold their prey in their jaws until it succumbs. Some smaller vipers like most European Vipers (Genus Vipera) will let go of their prey after striking to avoid risking injury. All Vipers can strike at an incredible speed and will can bite, inject venom and release their prey in less than a second.

Old World Vipers are seldom seen actively hunting or searching for prey. If a Viper is seen on the move, it may be changing its spot, basking for some energy in the sun, or on the lookout for a mate during mating season.

Generally, a viper will flee if it notices a threat, such as humans approaching. However, if confronted it will hiss very loudly, puff its body up to look bigger and strike if the treat does not back off. Some Vipers have such good camouflage that they will trust it to conceal them completely and not move at all. Most accidents happen because people step on the snake they did not even see and get bit, which is neither the snakes, nor the humans fault.

Venom Apparatus

The Viperidae possess the most advanced fang and venom delivery system of all snake species, so-called solenoglyphous fangs. As seen in the image, a Viper can fold their massive fangs back into their mouth. When they strike, they will open their mouth up to 160° wide and unfold their fangs. Like a needle, the fangs are hollow and directly connected to the venom gland to inject their prey with venom. This entire process goes down in less than a second. Sometimes, the animal may even realize that it has been injected with venom until it dies.

Solenoglyphous venom delivery apparatus of vipers

Vipers regularly shed and replace their teeth to in case one is damaged. The teeth are protected by thin lavers of skin which are pulled back when the viper ovens its mouth and unfolds its fangs to inject their prey with deadly venom.

Venom Composition

Roughly 90% of the venoms dry weight is protein, composed of a large variety of enzymes, polypeptide toxins and proteases. The enzymes include hydrolases (proteinases, endo- and exo- peptidases, phosphlipases) hyaluronidase and activators of inhibitors of the preys physiological mechanisms. Almost all venomos contain L – amino acid oxidases, phosophomono- and diesterases, phospolipase A2 and peptidases. Phospholipase A2 are the most wide spread of all snake venom enzymes, attacking mitochondria, red blood cells and leukocytes, peripheral nerve endings and skeletal muscles, causing haemorrhage, necrosis and flacid paralysis in their prey.

Echis Carinatus Sochureki. Known for their deadly haemotoxins and necrotic venom.

All Viperid venoms act mostly hemotoxic and haemorrhagic, attacking both the prey clotting mechanism, causing tissue damage and persistent bleeding, or the victims blood pressure, causing the victim to die of shock, stroke or complete cardiac arrest. Although Viperid venoms are relatively weak compared to some elapids, the composition of their venom makes a bite highly uncomfortable and extremely painful.

The Puff adders, bitis arietans, carry some of the most potent haemorrhage-inducing kallikrein enzymes of all snakes

SV Metalloproteases

Snake Venom Metalloproteases (SVMP) are a special type of protein consisting of Metalloprotease, disintegrin-like, and cysteine rich domains that are common in vipers and responsible for potent haemorrhages. They are associated with a wide range of functions but the plesiotypic effect seems to be the induction of haemorrhages. This is the result of proteolytic cleavage of basement membrane components present in capillary vessels, which likely result in the distention of the capillary wall, the disruption of the endothelial cell integrity, and, ultimately, extravasation.

Kallikrein enzymes

These enzymes have evolved from a type of serine proteases and are almost exclusively found in the venoms of viperid snakes. This toxin form contributes to the profound, rapidly developing swellings common after viperid envenomation. They due this mostly by binding to specific amino acid sites in substrates like lysine or arginine, which may alter the function of thrombin, a vital factor when it comes to blood clot formation. Additionally, venom kallikrein enzymes cleave to fibrinogen which is necessary to form a stable clot. By reducing the available fibrinogen for clot formation, haemorrhages are incudes and the victim starts to bleed into vital internal tissues.

Now, I want to introduce you to my personal favourite Viperinae species – the Gaboon Viper

The Gaboon Viper

These huge and beautiful vipers live in the vast forests of both western and eastern Africa. They are viviparous and give birth to roughly 10 – 45 live you snakes. During mating season, males will get really active and engage in combat sparring to increase their chances of mating. Because of their massive size, these snakes can take down prey up to the size of a small antelope, but usually they feed off other small mammals.

Bitis rhinoceros – look closely, it is well camouflaged… did you see the horn on the nose?

Previously, the gaboon vipers were separated into two subspecies. Recently however, the subspecies Bitis gabonica rhinoceros has been assigned full species status, separating the gaboon vipers into Bitis gabonica (eastern gaboon viper) and Bitis rhinoceros (western gaboon viper). The two species are nearly identical, separated by only a few physical features.

First of all, the western gaboon vipers, Bitis rhinoceros, grows a few centimeters larger, and with 200cm adults it is the larges known true viper species in the world. Both species are absolutely massive in body size and have a fat, sluggish body and a huge triangular head.

Bitis gabonica lacks the rhino-like horns typical for the western species. Both species have a series of triangular body markings which make them perfectly camouflaged in leaf litter and on the forest floor. The exact pattern is almost impossible to describe in words, but it is stunningly perfect camouflage and beautiful in shape.

Some really cute baby gaboon vipers, bitis gabonica, without the horn.

The gaboon vipers are typical ambush predators. The often hide for days in the leaf litter, where they are perfectly camouflaged, and wait for prey to pass. They, they strike with such and incredible force and accuracy that the victims has zero chance of escaping.

Because of their size, these massive vipers usually just hold on to their prey and wait until the fast acting and potent hemotoxins and cytotoxins complete their work. These vipers can strike and envenomate the victim in less than half a second and deliver probably the largest quantity of venom of any snake in the world – up to 500mg per bite.

Their fangs are also the largest fangs ever recorded of any venomous snake and can get up to 5.5 cm long. Because of their docile and secretive nature, bites are extremely rare and no fatalities have ever been recorded. Their is also good polyvalent antivenom cover for both species. However, a bite from this species must be treated as a medical emergency and can have fatal consequences.

Bitis Gabonica, the Eastern Gaboon viper. Note the lack of horns which tell the difference between the western and the eastern species

 

In my opinion, these are some of the most interesting and fascinating snakes on this planet.

I hope you enjoyed this article and that you learned something about the old-world vipers. For further reading, check out my “venomous snakes” section or read some of my “book reviews”.

 

 

 

 

If you are interested in my sources, click HERE!

Everything you Need to Know about Elapids

Elapids – An Introduction to the Family Elapidae and the Genus Naja

The Elapidae are certainly one of the most interesting families of snakes . Some of the most iconic and feared snake species, like the cobras, king cobras and mambas belong to this family.

Elapids are generally long and slender snakes and they are all truly venomous. Their head is usually not visibly separated from their body and they are easily mistaken for non-venomous colubrid snakes.

In this article, I want to introduce you to this fascinating family of snakes and tell you everything you need to know about them. This will include a detailed description of their classification, venom apparatus and venom composition and toxicity. I will also introduce the most fascinating elapid genus, which are the cobras.

This beautiful naja siamensis, a spitting cobra, belongs to the Elapidae family.
The genus Dendroaspis, the mambas, are also part of the Elapidae

 

Classification and basic Information

The Elapidae are the largest species complex of “true” venomous snakes. By “true” venomous snakes, all non-rear fanged venomous snakes are meant. Of course, rear fanged venomous colubrids are also often highly venomous snakes but they lack a sophisticated venom delivery system which is why they are classified differently.

Currently, there are about 325 species and 61 genera recognized in the two families of the sea snakes (Hydrophiidae) and the land-based Elapids (Elapidae). Although they are taxonomically quite different, the Hydrophiidae and Elapidae were originally classified as one family and are very simlilar.

The balck Mamba, Dendroaspis polylepis, is one of the most feared snakes around the world

Elapids are very active snakes and can often be seen hunting for their prey during the day. Compared to viper, they are more defensive, but also more predictable since their active body langue tell you how the snake feels. They may not have such advanced Venom delivery mechanisms like the Viperidae, but they do not need it.

Elapids will actively look for prey and sense their presence with the flickering tongue, often ending up chasing their prey. After striking, Elapids usually hold on to their victim and sometimes start swallowing while its still alive. Their fast acting, potent venom makes in impossible for the victim to defend itself.

Venom Apparatus

Elapids are front fanged venomous, or proteroglyphous snakes. Proteroglyphous teeth means that their venom fangs are positioned in the front of their mouth and that they are, unlike a viper tooth, fixed and cannot be folded back. This also means that the fangs have to be very short, often no longer than half a centimetre. The fangs are formed like an injection needle with a small hollow duct connected to the venom gland.

proteroglyphous fangs of a green Mamba (Dendroaspis Viridis)

Because of their short teeth, some people often question whether elapids can even pierce the skin of their prey enough for the venom to reach they preys internal system or bite through something like a jacked. The answer is no and yes, Elapids can indeed easily bite through a jacked. Just pierce your jacked with a short needle, it is almost the same and will get almost anywhere. And no, Elapids may not be able to sink their teeth in as deep as Vipers, but they do not need to reach the blood stream or tissue below the skin since their venom composition is different and targets different bodily systems. Sometimes, all it takes is a scratch for the venom to reach exactly the places it has to reach – your lymphatic system just below the skin. You may not even realize that the deadly toxins have entered your body…

Venom Composition

Some elapids on this planet are among the deadliest creatures alive. Why these snakes have developed such incredible potent toxins remain an evolutionary riddle. But we do know quite a lot about the composition and effects of Elapidae envenomation, although we are still just scratching the surface of this research area.

For the most part, Elapidae venoms target the nervous system and neuron junctions to efficiently shut down the communication in their victims’ body. Some venoms may include hemotoxic factors, but unlike viper toxins, these snakes almost never cause necrosis, haemorrhages or severe tissue damage.

Possible consequences of Elapidae envenomation

Elapid venom travels at first through the lymphatic system, which is located directly underneath the skin, before it enters the blood stream. Their venom also consist mainly of Enzymes such as Kunitz peptides, Acetylcholine inhibitors (Acetylcholinesterase) and alpha – and  beta – neurotoxic Phospholipases A1 and A2. The largest group is probably made of neurotoxic three-finger peptides, which efficiently shut down the preys’ nervous system. An elapids Victim may die of shock, complete cardiac arrest due to flaccid paralysis or shut down of nervous system.

Neurotoxic Phospholipases A1 and A2

These enzymes induce nerve cell damage by binding irreversibly to the motor nerve terminals of the victims leading to impaired or completely inhibited release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. This depletion of transmission will then quickly lead to the complete degeneration of the nerve terminal, which will induce flaccid paralysis and cardiac arrest in the bite victim. The generation of the terminal occurs in three steps; first, when the enzyme binds to the terminal the release of acetylcholine is stopped. Second, the enzyme induces a sudden overflow of the neurotransmitter which is followed by complete inhibition of the neuromuscular junction.

This beautiful bungarus fasciatus carries one of the most potent neurotoxins in the world – the beta bungarotoxin

Neurotoxic three finger toxins

This complex group of enzymes get their name from their physical structure which resembles a hand with three fingers. This toxin also messes up the release of acetylcholine and other neurotransmitters, but in a slightly different manner. On the one hand, they can bind to the peptide acetylcholinesterase, which is responsible for regulating acetylcholine release, causing a huge overflow of nerve stimulation which leads to spastic paralysis, a condition where the victims’ muscles start twitching uncontrollably. On the other hand, these enzymes may also act as beta-neurotoxic neurotransmitter inhibitors, which leads to similar effects as the phospholipase envenomation.

Oxyuranus microlepidotus, the inland Taipan. These snakes are considered to be the most venomous snakes in the world, known for its strong neurotoxins

Now I want to introduce the three most interesting Elapidae genus in my opinion which are the cobras.

The cobras

Cobras are among the most feared and worth-shipped creatures on earth.  In India and Indonesia they are worth-shipped as gods or holy animals, while they are feared for their hoods and attitude all over the rest of the world. I believe that all together, they are just still very misunderstood and fascinating animals. The genus of true cobras goes by the Latin classification Naja and includes currently 36 species (constantly changing). Contrary to popular believes, the King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) is actually not a true cobra. It is called the King Cobra because it behaves similarly and feeds on other snakes, including other cobras.

Some People just want to admire the beauty of these animals and not show them off!
Naja kaouthia (by Mark Kostich)

The Hood

The cobras hood is iconic all over the world. However, few people actually understand what it means. Cobras hood as a defensive method to avoid biting because venom production is energy consuming.

A snake will have to increase it metabolism for up to 20% to refuel their venom gland while your only speed up your about 3% during heavy exercisisng. So, the snakes do not want to waste their precious venom on some stupid attacker, which is why it spreads the skin around its neck to intimidate the opponent. It wants to bring across a message, namely that it is larger that it actually is and fierce and venomous. It wants to intimidate its opponent enough to scare him off without a bite.

Sadly, many snake charmers use this defensive behaviour for showman purposes. Snakes do not have outer ears, which means the animal is completely unaware of the flute music playing but just provoked by the movement of the flute and put in distress. Many snakes are defanged cruelly or get their mouth stitched up to make them harmless. Snake charming is an incredibly cruel activity and does only harm the animal in many ways.

Spitting cobras

In my opinion, spitting cobras are some of the most fascinating animals on this planet. They have developed a completely different defensive strategy which is still and evolutionary mystery.

Unlike most other elapids, their fangs have an enlarged and elongated opening which enables them to spray their toxins out of their mouth in a controlled stream. This occurs with incredible accuracy; spitting cobras can hit their opponents’ eyes precisely from up to 5m away, inducing incredible pain and partial blindness which enables the snake to escape.

When spitting cobras are confronted, they will first hood like all other cobras and warm their opponent but they are far less tolerant – get too close and you will experience pain like you never have before. Some African spitting cobra species are known for being exceptionally defensive and aware, sometimes not even bothering to hood before they used their incredible defence.

A fascinating naja nigricollis from africa spitting venom

Because they use their venom for such a special purpose, their venom composition has evolved in a slightly different direction. Although they are still mainly neurotoxic, their venom includes some peptide commonly found in vipers which induce cytotoxicity and incredible pain trough severe tissue damage in the eyes of the attacker. It is also evolutionary evidence for the defensive use of venom in snakes.

I hope you enjoyed this short introduction to this fascinating family of snakes. If you are interested in further information on this topic, your should check out my “Venomous Snakes” section or head to the “Venomous Snakes Literature” reviews and get yourself a lot of first hand information and knowledge from experts.

If you are interested in my sources, click HERE!

My Sources

Have you ever wondered where all of this knowledge is from? – Here you can find every source I ever used to create the content on this website!

In my opinion, it is very important that you, the visitors, are sure that everything I publish is trustworthy and scientifically backed up. This is why I have created this page to give you every source I have used to create content on this site so that you can be sure that everything you read here is taken from professionally published work or otherwise personal experience!

Many of my sources are in German, since I am from Switzerland and a native German speaker. However, all works should also be available in an English translation. My favourite publications can be discovered in the Literature Suggestions section of this website!

My Sources:

  • “Venomous Reptiles and their Toxins”, Bryan G. Fry, Oxford University Press 2015
  • “Old World Vipers”, Tony Phelps, Edition Chimaira 2004
  • “How Snakes Work – Structure, Function and Behaviour of the World’s Snakes”, Harvey B. Lillywhite, Oxford University Press 2014
  • “Giftschangen im Terrarium” , Ludwig Trutnau, Ulmer Verlag 1998 (Available in English)
  • “Python Regius – Das Kompendium”, Kevin McCurley, Edition Chimaira 2011 (Available in English)
  • “Morelia Viridis – Das Kompendium”, Greg Maxwell, Edition Chimaira 2005 (Available in English)
  • “Venomous Snakes of Africa”, Gernot Vogel & Maik Dobiey, Edition Chimaira 2007
  • “Venomous Snakes of Asia”, Gernot Vogel, Edition Chimaira 2006
  • “Schlangen Europas”, Guido Kreiner, Edition Chimaira 2007 (Available in English)
  • “Venomous Snakes of Europe, Northern, Central and Western Asia”, Gernot Vogel & Patrik David, Edition Chimaira 2006
  • “A Complete Guide to the Snakes of Southern Africa”, Johan Marais, StruikNature 2004
  • “Sachkundenachweis für Giftschlangen”, Roger Aeberhard, Snakeparadise 2017 (Not available in English)
  • “Klapperschlangen”, Reptilia Nr. 66 Aug/Sep 2007 (Not available in English)
  • “Morelia” Reptilia Nr. 118 Apr/May 2016 (Not available in English)
  • “Kobras” Reptilia Nr. 89 June/July 2011 (Not available in English)
  • “Australische Pythons” Reptilia Nr. 79 Oct/Nov 2009 (Not available in English)
  • “Königspythons” Reptilia Nr. 104 June/July 2014 (Not available in English)
  • “Europäische Vipern” Elaphe Nr. 47 May/June 2014 (Not available in English)

 

If you have further questions about the sources, feel free to contact me directly or leave a comment below!

I hold a Swiss licence for keeping venomous snakes in a private collection with registernr. 08/0025

 

The Book every Ball Python Keeper should read

My Literature Suggestions – Ball Pythons

For many people out there looking for a first pet snake, Ball Pythons are one of the best options. I myself also started my journey with a baby Ball Python I named Pepper.

The most important thing for anyone starting to keep snakes is getting enough reliable information and knowledge on your future pet. In this article, I will introduce you to my two absolute favourite book on Ball Pythons (Python Regius).

These books cover everything you need to successfully keep and even breed your python with detail and helpful tips. In fact, i believe that you only need either one of them to successfully keep and breed these exciting animals.

Now, lets get started!


The Complete Ball Python, A Comprehensive Guide to Care, Breeding, and Genetic Mutations, by Kevin McCurley – review

 

  • English and German available
  • Care, Breeding and Genetic Mutations
  • Very Detailed
  • By extremely experienced Ball Python breeder kevin McCurley
  • More than 300 pages
  • Color images and descriptions
  • Price: $52.50 on Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

“The Complete Ball Python” by Kevin McCurley is probably the most comprehensive book on the species. It was written by one of the most decorated breeders out there and covers everything from basic husbandry to breeding and genetic mutations with much detail.

Additionally, it addresses all relevant information when it comes to Ball Python husbandry. This includes heating, humidity, housing and common problems and issues.

And finally, it also dedicates a chapter to common diseases and health issues, providing helpful tips on problems with shedding, parasites or common colds.

Now, it is also probably the most complete guide to breeding Ball Pythons.

Not only does it present all the relevant information and procedures, it also includes a great chapter on genetic mutations that will help everyone understand why some Pythons have such incredible colorations.

In my opinion, it is an absolute must for every future Python keeper or breeder out there. You will find every bit of necessary information about Python regius in this work.

In fact, It may even be the only book you need to successfully keep this species. If you like Ball Pythons and want to get one, or already have one and often encounter issues, you can get yours HERE now.


Python Regius – Atlas of Color Morphs, Keeping and Breeding, by Stefan Broghammer – review

  • English and German available
  • Color images
  • 356 pages
  • By experienced German Ball Python breeder Stefan Broghammer
  • Price: $97.50 on Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Python Regius” by Stefan Broghammer is, as the name suggests, an Atlas on all the different color morphs and a complete guide to breeding Ball Pythons.

Like McCurleys’ book, it is one of the most complete guides on Ball Python care out there. It is filled with great tips and helpful tricks you can only get from someone with as much experience as Stefan Broghammer. He is definitely also one of the most decorated Python breeders in the world.

It is also especially dedicated to the breeding aspect of Python regius, including great and effective breeding and hatching procedures. Its price results from the incredible amount of colored images and detailed analysis of all the recently discovered color morphs and their genetic mutations.

So, if you are into color morphs and want to understand how they work, this is the book for you!

If you are a Ball Python and you want to extend your knowledge on color morphs, you can get one HERE.


I personally cannot decide which one of these book is the better one. There are only slight differences and both are incredibly complete and detailed.

The one by Stefan Brohammer includes more color images and morph descriptions, which lead to the higher price. On the other hand, Kevin McCurleys’ provides a just as valuable guide to the care and breeding of this great species.

I hope you enjoyed this post.

As always, feel free to leave a comment or contact me directly with our questions!

The Top Books on Venomous Snakes you should read

On this list, you will find my personal favourite Book and Literature List on Venomous Snake. I have been fascinated by these creatures for many years and have read a great and wide range of different types of Literature and Book on the topic. Here, I will introduce you to my personal favourites that I think every snake lover or venomous snakes enthusiast should have read or studied. Of course, keep in mind that books cannot make you en expert on a topic and along with reading books and literature, I suggest getting practical experiences with the animals you are interested in. I personally think that captive care of an animal you are fascinated about is the perfect way to study the animal and get to know it.


 

Now lets start with some Books that will Give you a great overview of the classification of venomous snakes and great basic knowledge about these misunderstood animals.

Venomous Snakes: Snakes in the Terrarium (Vol 2) by Ludwig Trutnau – Review

  • Completely revised and expanded edition
  • Includes 171 species accounts
  • Detailed description of each species
  • Focuses on captive care of venomous snakes
  • 129 color pictures
  • Published in 2004
  • 340 Pages
  • Price: $97.99 on Amazon.com

 

Ludwig Trutnau’s “Venomous Snakes: Snakes in the Terrarium” has been considered the classical work on venomous snake husbandry in German-speaking countries for years, and is now finally available in English.

This book is an absolute must have for any venomous snake enthusiast. However, one should be careful about the Latin classification of the species portrayed. Since the book was published in 2004, it does not follow the most recent classification details. Also, the book does not offer any taxonomic keys and contains little taxonomic information and knowledge. Basic information is provided in the beginning of each species description, including aspects like appearance and distribution, but it is kept rather short. There is hardly any information on the biology of the discussed taxa. Nevertheless, it includes the full description of more than 150 species of venomous snakes, including behaviour, reproduction, captivity and other aspects of their lives. It is truly fantastic and gives any enthusiast a great insight into the world of venomous snakes. In fact, some taxonomic revisions in recent years have been updated in the English version and were outdated in the original German edition.

The book is written specifically for herpetoculturists, and therefore focuses on captive husbandry techniques and propagation data for each of the species. The species accounts also include relevant information on the behavior and demeanor of the given taxa. On these topics, the book offers more relevant information than any other work I have seen in recent years.

It is a must for any herpetoculturist and venomous snakes enthusiast, and you can get yours HERE!


The next three books are best presented together – they are all Terralog editions that present all the species and genera of (true) venomous snakes (Viperidae and Elapidae) in a given area, which is really fascinating and cool to have.

TERRALOG: Venomous Snakes of Europe, Northern, Central and Western Asia, By Gernot Vogel and Patrik David – review

Terralog: Venomous Snakes of Africa, By Maik Dobiey and Gernot Vogel – review

Terralog: Venomous Snakes of Asia, By Gernot Vogel – review

The “Terralog; Venomous Snakes of …” series are three books that present photographs of the Venomous snakes of their assigned region. All these works are mainly photographic and do not feature a lot of text. Each taxa is described at the beginning of the book in a small essay form, but from there on there is only a Latin classification, the distribution and basic information along with the images of each species.

However, in my opinion, these books are great for hobbyists who want to have the pictures of all the species around. Gernot Vogel and his Co-workers put in a lot of effort to get the images of even the rarest and most recently described species on each continent. Some if his photographs feature some of the rarest snakes in the world and in great quality.

This book may not be the most comprehensive guide to the biology and behaviour of venomous snakes, but it is one of the greatest checklist of venomous snakes and a must for any venomous snakes enthousiast and hobby herpetologist. You are not going to learn a great deal about these animals apart from taxonomy and distribution of the species, but it is still one of my all time favourite and go to works if I want to look up a species or remind myself of the beauty of these animals.

Many people think that the book is overpriced at $74, which is why you can get them all together at only $224 HERE!


The next book i want to introduce is my all time favourite work on Venomous snakes. Not only is it troughout and detailed, it is also on my favourite family of snakes – the ones that got me started on this passion: Old World Vipers!

Old World Vipers, A Natural History of the Azemiopinae and Viperinae Hardcover review by Tony Phelps, 2010 

  • Edition Chiamara 2010
  • More than 400 pages
  • Color Images
  • English
  • Detailed description of each species
  • Easy and comfortable to read
  • Price: $89.95 on Amazon.com

 

 

“Old World Vipers, A Natural History of the Azemiopinae and Viperinae” by Tony Phelps is in my opinion one of the best works on venomous snakes for the average reptile enthousiast you can possibly get. It written in an engaging and comfortable style, which makes it easy to understand and enjoy for just about anyone.
It also succeeds in reaching a very high standart in enducation, which makes it interesting for both the average hobbyist and also the expert on venomous snakes. Tony Phelps has worked with Vipers all his life, especially with the European Vipers (Vipera Berus) and he shares some of the most recent discoveries and taxonomic revision in this work. However, there is one recent revision this book does not follow – the Viperinae have been seperated into the Viperinae and the Causinae.

The book offers a nice introduction and general description on the life and behaviour of Vipers, including their ranges of habitat, feeding behaviour and reproduction. Secondly, Tony introduces every species seperately, giving brief information on appearance, observations, habitat, feeding and venom composition, which gives the reader a nice impression of each species and makes the book very easy and interesting to follow. Lastly, Phelps goes into more detail on the composition of Viper Venoms and their effect on their prey, which is incredibly fascinating, but includes difficult terminology. Nevertheless, also this section is interesting to follow for just about anyone. Phelps offers detailed knowledge on Venom effects, treatment and antivenin production and effects, which gives anyone a great basic understanding of the complexity and brilliance on venoms.

In conclusion, this book is a must for anyone who loves Vipers and wants to get familiar with venomous snakes, their venoms, biology and taxonomy. If you consider yourself a venomous snake enthousiast, get one HERE now!

 

 

Meet the Worlds most evolved Predators! – Pit Vipers (Crotalinae)

Pit Vipers are amongst the greatest and most evolved predators on earth with highly specialized and precise methods to detect, catch and kill their prey. But they are also very shy, small and peaceful creatures.

Just like the Old World Vipers, they are extremely misjudged and mystical animals. The family of the Pit Vipers, the Crotalinae, are part of the Viperidae complex, which means that they are actually also vipers. Rattlesnakes, which do also belong to the Pit Vipers, play a great role in American culture and traditions.

In the following article, I will introduce you to these great, highly efficient and often misunderstood predators, exploring their behaviour, venom apparatus, venom composition and heat sensing heat pits.

A beautiful Eyelash Pit Viper, Bothriechis Schlegelii

Classification and basic Information

Vipers are separated into 4 main subfamilies, the Viperinae, Crotalinae, Causinae, and Azemiopinae. This page will focus only on the subfamily Crotalinae. The other subfamilies will be introduced separately. The Crotalinae include 151 species distributed across 18 Genera.

Just like the Vipers, Pit vipers are usually rather short and strong, except for the genus Lachesis. Also, many Pit Vipers, like the Trimeresurus, Tropidalaemus, Bothrops Agkistrodon and Deinagkistrodon often have really pointy and triangular heads, which explains their common Name – Lancehead Vipers. All Pit Vipers can easily be recognized by their most obvious trait – the large heat pits right underneath their nasal pits.

Bothrops Moojeni, The Brasilian Lancehead

Like most other Vipers, the Pit Vipers are mostly ambush predator, which means that they can sit in the same spot for many days and wait their prey to pass by.

Snakes mostly rely on their sense of smell to detect their prey. By regularly tasting the air with their tongue, they will recognize prey approaching even at night. Then, they will strike at an incredible speed and usually hold their prey in their jaws until it succumbs.

Pit Vipers have one even more efficient way of detecting their prey – the heat pits enable these incredible predators to visualize up to 0.003° Celsius of temperature changes around them. With all these incredible detecting organs and their specialized fangs and venom delivery system, Pit Vipers are the ultimate predators. All Vipers can strike at an incredible speed and will can bite, inject venom and release their prey in less than a second.

Pit Vipers are seldom seen actively hunting or searching for prey. If a Viper is seen on the move, it may be changing its spot, basking for some energy in the sun, or on the lookout for a mate during mating season. However, many Pit Viper species are mainly arboreal and can be seen resting or climbing on branches during the night.

Generally, a viper will flee if it notices a threat, such as humans approaching. However, if confronted it will hiss very loudly, puff its body up to look bigger and strike if the treat does not back off. Some Vipers have such good camouflage that they will trust it to conceal them completely and not move at all. Other, like the Rattlesnakes, have developed sophisticated mechanisms to warn potential predators. Most accidents happen because people step on the snake they did not even see and get bit, which is neither the snakes, nor the humans fault.

The Philipine Temple Viper – Tropidalaemus Subannulatus Subannulatus, with clearly visible heat pits

Heat Pits – the most sophisticated method to detect prey

Heat pits of pit viper
Heat pits of an Asian Tree Viper (Trimeresurus)

Probably the most distinct and fascinating feature of the Pit Viper is their heat sensing organ located right underneath the nostrils. These small holes enable the snake to spot their prey with infrared sensing. But new research has shown that this organ is not only used for predatory purpose, but also useful in thermoregulation and defense. It has been shown that a blindfolded rattlesnake is able to accurately strike both prey and attacker from up to a meter away and that the snake uses this special organ also to find spots to thermoregulate.

A Diagram of the Pit Vipers infrared sensory organs

The Heat Pit consist of a deep pocket in the rostrum of the snake with a membrane stretched across it. Behind and in front of this membrane lies an air chamber, that both provides the thermosensitive nerve cells inside the membrane with oxygen, and rapidly cools it after being heated by heat radiation from a stimulus. As seen in the image, this entire mechanism is protected by another membrane at the lip of the pocket.


Venom Apparatus

Solenoglyphous venom delivery apparatus of vipers

All Viperidae possess the most advanced fang and venom delivery system of all snake species, so-called solenoglyphous fangs. As seen in the image, a Viper can fold their massive fangs back into their mouth. When they strike, they will open their mouth up to 160° wide and unfold their fangs. Like a needle, the fangs are hollow and directly connected to the venom gland to inject their prey with venom. This entire process goes down in less than a second. Sometimes, the animal may even realize that it has been injected with venom until it dies.

Vipers regularly shed and replace their teeth to in case one is damaged. The teeth are protected by thin layers of skin which are pulled back when the viper ovens its mouth and unfolds its fangs to inject their prey with deadly venom.


Venom Composition

Roughly 90% of the venom dry weight is protein, composed of a large variety of enzymes, polypeptide toxins and proteases. The enzymes include hydrolases (proteinases, endo- and exo- peptidases, phosphlipases) hyaluronidase and activators of inhibitors of the preys physiological mechanisms. Almost all venomos contain L – amino acid oxidases, phosophomono- and diesterases, phospolipase A2 and peptidases. Phospholipase A2 are the most wide spread of all snake venom enzymes, attacking mitochondria, red blood cells and leukocytes, peripheral nerve endings and skeletal muscles, causing haemorrhage, necrosis and flacid paralysis in their prey.

 

Asian Temple Vipers are known for their extremely necrotic venoms, full of Metalloproteases

All Viperid venom act mostly hemotoxic and haemorrhagic, attacking both the prey clotting mechanism, causing tissue damage and persistent bleeding, or the victims blood pressure, causing the victim to die of shock, stroke or complete cardiac arrest. Although Viperid venom are relatively weak compared to some Elapids, the composition of their venom makes a bite highly uncomfortable and extremely painful.

SV Metalloproteases

Snake Venom Metalloproteases (SVMP) are a special type of protein consisting of Metalloprotease, disintegrin-like, and cysteine rich domains that are common in vipers and responsible for potent haemorrhages. They are associated with a wide range of functions but the plesiotypic effect seems to be the induction of haemorrhages. This is the result of proteolytic cleavage of basement membrane components present in capillary vessels, which likely result in the distention of the capillary wall, the disruption of the endothelial cell integrity, and, ultimately, extravasation.

Some Rattlesnakes, like the Crotalus Durissus, are exceptionally neurotoxic, which is unusual for Vipers

Kallikrein enzymes

These enzymes have evolved from a type of serine proteases and are almost exclusively found in the venom of viperid snakes. This toxin form contributes to the profound, rapidly developing swellings common after viperid envenomation. They do this mostly by binding to specific amino acid sites in substrates like lysine or arginine, which may alter the function of thrombin, a vital factor when it comes to blood clot formation. Additionally, venom kallikrein enzymes cleave to fibrinogen which is necessary to form a stable clot. By reducing the available fibrinogen for clot formation, haemorrhages are incudes and the victim starts to bleed into vital internal tissues.

Triangular head of a Trimeresurus venustus (beautiful pit viper)

I hope that you enjoyed this page and learned a bit from it. Pit Vipers are absolutely stunning and beautiful animals and they deserve to be treated as such. These snakes have climbed to the top of the tree of evolution and are, in my opinion, the ultimate predator when it comes to sophisticated and efficient hunting methods.

If you found this article interesting, you can continue reading about Vipers HERE.

If you are interested in my sources, click HERE!

If you have any question, feel free to leave a comment or email me directly!

Green Tree Python (Morelia Viridis) Care Sheet

Green Tree Pythons are not only some of the most beautiful animals on the planet but also a very interesting pet. Caring for such an exotic animal can be very rewarding and never gets boring. So, here is what you should definitely know about this snake before getting one!

This care sheet is supposed to give you a brief overview of the requirements you must meet when caring for green tree pythons (Morelia Viridis). This snake is often also called the chondro because it was originally classified as Chondropython viridis.

Green Tree Pythons are certainly one of the most desired species in the pet trade, but there are also not the easiest to care for. Still, their overwhelming color, shape and behavior make them one of the most beautiful and interesting pet snakes in the world.

Remember that a care sheet for Green Tree Pythons cannot provide nearly enough knowledge required for caring for your own individual. It is just supposed to give you a brief summary on the species.

Now, lets get started!

Emerald Tree Boas (picture) are often confused with Green Tree Pythons because they look so similar! (Source: pixabay.com)

Size and age

Green Tree Pythons are a rather small species of pythons. Their size depends to some extend on their locality, but the average adult measures between 1.10m and 1.50m in length. It is usually about as thick as a human adult wrist.

They rarely reach over 1.80m, but only in exceptional cases. In captivity, they may live up to an impressive age of 20 years.


Habitat

The Green Tree Pythons inhabits the vast tropical jungles of New Guinea and Indonesia. It lives in the high canopies of the jungle, where the humidity is high.

In the mountains, there can be up to 3000mm of rain per year, with periodic rainfall in the afternoon and limited rainfall during the dry seasons. Its habitat is impressively diverse and beautiful. It is a classical exotic tropical rain forest.


Activity

Green Tree Pythons are mostly active at dawn and during the night. During the day, they rest in their iconic resting position, curled up on a branch.

Once dawn sets in, the pythons will get active and either forage, or rest in position with the neck curled in an S-shape ambush position. They often sit for hours like this waiting for prey to pass on the branch beneath them.

classic resting position of the green tree python (by Tim Launer)

Morelia viridis is generally not very active. They are classic ambush predators, waiting for their prey to pass and then strike with incredible power and speed. Sometimes however, the pythons will be actively searching for either prey, a better resting position or a mate.


Handling

Green Tree Pythons are often said to be very evil and difficult snakes to handle. This is of course not true at all. Green Tree Pythons, just like any other snake, can be handled calmly without having to worry about injury.

However, we should note that green tree pythons are certainly not a cuddly snake and can indeed be very defensive. This is especially true for some individuals from the Biak island locality.

Biak Chondro (Source: pixabay.com)

So, if you are looking for a first pet you can regularly handle, the chondro may not be your best option. Green Tree Pythons are sensitive to stress and should be left alone as much as possible. However, they are a great display animal you can observe and admire.

Now, as mentioned, they are still usually not difficult to handle. If they are treated with respect and patience on a regular basis, Morelia viridis can also be a very cooperative snake and will not strike at all.

But still, I recommend a basic level of experience with handling snakes before you get a green tree python to avoid unnecessary issues.


Humidity

Green Tree Pythons are very sensitive to their environment. The most critical point is definitely humidity. A reptile keeper should have some experience with cages, heating and humidity control before they get a chondro. This is because Morelia viridis tends to be not very hardy in captivity.

Now, I do not want keep anyone from taking on this challenge. It is certainly not impossible to keep your Green Tree Pythons happy and healthy. As always, just do your research and you will be fine.

Where the chondro comes from, the humidity usually remains above 70%. So, you should also strive to achieve this environment in your cage. It is important to not overdo it – avoid a constantly wet cage since that would encourage fungi and bacteria growth.

In my opinion, the best way to regulate humidity is to mist the cage in the morning and let it dry during the day. This simulates the periodic rainfall and drying of the pythons’ habitat. Spray until the glass of your cage is fogging, which is usually enough for the day.

Also, you should spray the animal directly once in a while. Most Green Tree Pythons love to drink the water droplets from their scales after a heavy rainfall period.

If you still feel insecure, get a humidity measuring device to control your cage humidity levels.

Many Green Tree Pythons preferably drink the water droplets from their scales, so you should also spray your animal directly! (source: pixabay.com)

Of course, things like steamers, nebulizers or atomizers are also an option. However, they need to be set to the correct interval of spraying to avoid a constantly wet cage.

You can continue reading about the different methods used to control humidity HERE.

A good substrate like coco fiber or live plants can also be a very good addition to your cage. It will store ssome of the water after you spray the cage and then gradually release it during the day.

If you want to know more about controling the humidity levels for your Green Tree Python, check out the page on “Morelia Viridis – Housing & Humidity”!


Temperature

Luckily, the temperature in the rain forest is always quite constant throughout the year and day.

So, a constant environemt of 30° Celsius during the day and 27° Celsius at night is just perfect. It is also always good to create a temperature gradient of 1-3° Celsius from one side of the cage to the opposite side. This will allow your chondro to choos its own temperature.

If you want to know more about setting up a temperature gradient and heating your terrarium, click HERE.


Cage requirements

Many people on the internet claim that 60 * 60 * 60 cm (length * depth * height) is an appropriate size for an adult GTP.

However, I believe that this is just because most commercially available terraria have this size.

Chondro resting on a nice branch (Source: pixabay.com)

Now, in my opinion, an adult Green Tree Python should have at least a 90 * 60 * 60 cm sized home! For larger females, 120 cm length is even more appropriate to make sure the animal has enough space to explore and hide. This should be fine for no more than 2 individuals living inside (Add 0.5m * 0.25m * 0.25m for every additional individual).

Since green tree pythons are arboreal, they do not necessarily need a hiding place on the ground. Instead, you should definitely have several layers of branches in all directions to provide enough room and opportunities for you python to climb, rest and investigate.

Also, always have a bowl of fresh water in your cage just in case. Most green tree pythons prefer to drink directly from the droplets of water that condense on their skin.

Before you buy a tank/cage, check for any cage requirement regulations in your country.


Cage maintenance

Fortunately, there won’t be very much to do here. I recommend spot cleaning your cage quickly every day This just means checking for snake waste or skin and removing it quickly.

That way, you only have to replace the entire bedding and clean the entire cage once every six or seven months.


Feeding

I recommend feeding you snake frozen-thawed mice once a week for juveniles and once every 10 – 14 days for adults. Choose the mouse/rat size according to the snake’s size; the snake should be visibly thicker after the meal but still manage swallow comfortably.

Keep in mind that Green Tree Pythons hunt at night, which is also the best time to feed them.

Typical ambush position, head facing downwards and alert posture. (source: pixabay.com)

If you want, you can of course feed live prey. Green Tree Pythons can be picky sometimes; some do not accept dead prey at all.

A simple trick is to quickly heat the prey up in hot water. This way, the snake will sense a body temeperature that makes dead prey seem alive.

If you cannot fool your python with this trick, you must offer live food. Only reach to methods like assist- or even force-feeding if you have a mentor who can teach you the skills to do that.


Please remember….

that a care sheet can never provide enough knowledge to care for this animal. Always do more background research and get enough trustworthy information on your desired species.

Before you get a Green Tree Python, you should read  a book from an expert on the topic!

I can highly recommend “More Complete Chondro” by Greg Maxwell. He is one of the poineers in the world of the Green Tree Python and one of the most respected chondro breeders of all time. His detailed book includes all there is to know from a theoretical standpoint, including things you only learn from years of experience.

You can find it on amazon.com!

If you are interested in my sources, click HERE!

As always, feel free to leave a comment or contact me directly with your questions!

Should Everybody be allowed to keep Venomous Snakes?

Should Venomous Snakes Be Kept Privately?

In the reptile hobby community, there is no bigger discussion than the captive care of venomous snakes by private owners. Venomous snakes are dangerous animal, there is no doubt to that, but they are also peaceful and fascinating creatures’. Keeping venomous snakes privately is a sensitive topic and in many countries regulated by law. It is often looked at as the ultimate challenge by many reptile hobbyists. Some others, like myself, are just fascinated by their beauty, behavior and biological wonderfulness.

Beatiful natural setup for green mambas (dendroaspis viridis) usign branches and artificial plants or flowers (by Roger Aeberhard)

In this article, I want to present my personal views based on my experiences and opinions on the topic of private ownership. Venomous animals kept in research facilities by professionals are not part of this discussion.

First off, I want to address one very important aspect; the law.


Restrictions by law – are they necessary?

Should the private ownership of venomous snakes be restricted?

I personally believe that it definitely should be restricted, but definitely not banned. By restriction, I mean that there should be several laws and steps in place that filter the responsible keepers from the risk-taking idiots. It could be in the form of courses, regular checks or controls and levels of experience in snake keeping that should be presented by the future owner. These restrictions should take a considerable amount of effort to pass and get a license and this basically has two main reasons;

#1 It would filter out the idiots looking for an adrenaline rush or cool asset.

Many accidents that happen privately with venomous snakes are not induced by the snake at all, but by irresponsible actions of the keeper. In general, venomous snakes common in captivity are very reluctant to bite and most species have to be provoked intensively before they strike. Often times, accidents happen when they involve individuals who were looking for a cool asset and handling the animal highly risky, irresponsibly or to show off. There are many irresponsible snakes keepers that ignore all rules for proper care of venomous snakes, like proper housing, and just want to keep a cool animal. These cases are always the ones that reach publicity because the animal got loose, attacked a second person or bit its irresponsible owner.

 

Do Not ever attempt such risky stunts. Venomous snakes should be handled resposibly!

However, these accidents and individuals are far from the responsible venomous snake owner community, since being prepared for accidents, proper housing and distance form secondary persons are extremely important.

#2 It would not keep responsible keepers from living their dream

Opposed to the people who are just looking for the thrill and cool asset, there are many snake lovers out there that actually just extremely fascinated by these creatures’ and want to admire them in a save, but private environment. I would add myself to this group because I am not interested in getting bit or showing off the animal, but just enjoying caring for such a fascinating creature and love to privately admire every aspect of their lives. There is amount of controls, courses or experience I would not be ready to acquire to get a license to keep such a beautiful animal. And although there remains some risk, it can be almost erase by proper care, effort and responsibility. Of course, accidents happen to professionals two, but in most cases they involve either wild and aggressive animals, or species that are not suited or common in private captivity, sine responsible owners know what animals to keep their hands off.

Some People just want to admire the beauty of these animals and not show them off!
Naja kaouthia (by Mark Kostich)

A great example for what I mean by restrictions is actually active in my home country, Switzerland. Here I had to take a full day course from highly responsible and experienced keepers to learn all about security and handling. This course now entitled me to file and application for a license for a list of 5 desired species. After acquiring the license, I was able to purchase and legally keep the five desired species for two years, after which I can add more animals to my license. Personally, I think this is enough to keep idiot from getting a venomous snake since it takes time, expenses and effort to get a license. At the same time, it does not prevent someone like me from keeping an animal of their dreams.

 


Now secondly, I want to address what it takes to keep venomous snakes and whether it is the right decision for you.

Venomous snakes are actually wonderful pets – if you are dedicated to the hobby and are not just looking for a cool asset

What does it take to privately keep venomous snakes?

First off, it requires a lot of responsibility. Of course, mistakes do happen to anyone but they shouldn’ happen to you in this hobby. You must make sure that there are all kinds of little securities in place that prevent you from walking into making mistakes. This includes being prepared for all scenarios, including an emergency protocol, housing security checks and personal controls of you state before you handle a venomous and potentially dangerous snake. You are also responsible for keeping your animal from harming anybody else, which includes not showing it off or handling it irresponsibly.

Emergency protocols are very important for keeping venomous snake safely!

Secondly, you must have some level of experience with handling snakes and some kind of mentor. Look for someone with experience in your area or go online and look for courses in snake handling and keeping. In the best scenario, you should keep a number of non-venomous, aggressive snakes before you take on venomous animal so that you are prepared and experienced in handling. All these things will be necessary to prepare you for your actual venomous snake and the difficulties you will encounter when keeping it.

Venomous snakes are beautiful and fascinating creatures, but shoul dnot be messed with!

Lastly, it takes a great deal of knowledge and fascination to out value the risk and effort it takes.

I personally think that this is one of the most important points. Keeping venomous snakes is certainly a risky business for anyone, not matter how experienced. And although you can definitely minimize your risk greatly, there remains that uncontrollable aspect in the behavior of venomous snakes. If you want to keep venomous snakes, make sure you want it baldly. I don’t mean following a temporary fascination, you should be a venomous snake nut, wanting to know everything about them for a long time. Only if you really love them enough, so much so that people ask you how you could be so obsessed with them, it is worth the taking the risk to keep them.

If you are now thinking to yourself ‘I believe I fulfil all these requirements’, go ahead and take the time to get into this beautiful hobby, it is one of the most rewarding and beautiful activities out there.

Here are some books I can personally recommend for any venomous snake nut (just click on the link to get your copy):

‘Venomous Snakes of Asia’ by Gernot Vogel

‘Venomous Snakes of Africa’ by Mark Dobiey and Gernot Vogel

‘Venomous Snakes’ by Ludwig Trutnau

‘Old World Vipers’ by Tony Phelps

And for advanced venomous creatures’ obsession there is certainly no better treat than ‘Venomous Reptiles & Their Toxins’ by Brian G. Fry!

Boiga dendrophila resting on a branch

In conclusion, I believe that keeping venomous snakes privately should be allowed, but restricted. It should take enough to filter the idiots from the snake nuts and lovers that are not just looking for a thrill. An even then, it takes responsibility, effort, experience and an obsession to be ready to keep venomous snakes safely. But if you are fully dedicated to it, it is one of the most rewarding and beautiful experiences in the world.

How To Pick Up Any Snake

The skin of snakes’ has fascinated people for decades and many find a beautiful, calm and gentle companion in their pet snake. Many beginner snake keepers have not had very much contact with these animals before getting one and are insecure about how they should handle their pet without stressing it out, provoking it to bite or risk injuring or dropping it. In this article, I want to discuss how a beginner snake keeper should handle his animal. I want to focus on how you should pick up a non-venomous pet snake, keep it in your arms and place it back again.

Keep in mind that every snake has an individual personality and may react accordingly different. I want to discuss how you should generally pick up a non-venomous snake, regardless of species, but there are always exceptions that require special care. Also, avoid handling wild specimen as you can never be share that it is harmless or how it will behave.


How can I avoid provoking a snake to bite me

Nothing bites without a reason and especially not snakes’. They are generally calm and relaxed animals without any aggression or intention to bite. However, they also want to be left alone and get easily scared of potential predators which may cause them to act defensively. Snakes never act aggressively, but may be defensive or scared when they get disturbed or agitated which can provoke them to bite.

Not provoking a snake is a little harder than it sounds; don’t pose a threat to a snake and it wont bother you being there. This basically means that you should not give the animal any reason to fear you so that it won’t have to be defensive. However, when your handling a snake, you are basically already catching it and posing a threat, so the key is to show the animal that you are no predator and do not want to harm it.

To convince it that you are not threat, let the snake choose its own path and do not try to force it in any direction. It will soon find its own way in your arms and by not grabbing onto it tightly, you show it that you have no intention to hurt it. You should also always avoid rapid movements, which may cause the animal to freak out and try to escape. The head is another sensitive area where snakes’ can easily be provoked with touch or close movement. So, if you do not have to check something on your snakes’ head, stay away from it and let it decide where it wants to go.

A snake will openly show your through its body language if it perceives you as a threat. Look for jerky movements, s-shaped neck position and hissing. Any of these are clear signs that the animal does not want to be bothered. It will seem nervous, flick its tongue in long intervals and get scared at any movement you make. In this case, it is best to just back off and come back another time.

As long as you stay calm, respect the snakes’ path and do not hurt it in any way, the snake will behave the same and adapt to you.


Picking up a snake – 3 simple steps

Many beginner pet snake keepers struggle with picking up their snake. Here are three simple steps you should follow when picking up any snake, regardless of species. Remember, there are always exceptional individuals that require special care

Step 1

Make sure that you have enough space around yourself and the snake to react to any sudden movement. You should avoid trying to pull the snake out or a small hole or anything similar. Instead, wait until it is on the move or in and open space where you can easily reach it and calmly pick it up. Then proceed to step 1: touch the snake and show it that you are there. Do not stroke or scratch it because that will stress out most snakes’. Instead, just gently place your hand on the rear body part of the snake, not close to the head as seen in the image below. The snake will now show you how it fells towards you; if it reacts by trying to move away quickly or turns in a jerky move, it may already be stressed out and not want to be bothered. If it only reacts moderately to your touch, you can proceed without worries about a bite.

Image coming

Step 2

Now that you are sure that it is not acting super defensively or jerky, you can go on to pick it up. Gently slide one or both your hands underneath its body and grab it as demonstrated in the image below. If possible, ensure that the head is facing away from you and try to grab it in the back half of its body. The go ahead to gently lift it off the floor and stay calm so the snake will stay calm too. At this point, you should not be holding on too tightly and let the snake escape if it tries to suddenly.

Image coming

Step 3

Make sure that while holding it in the air you are supporting every part of its body to avoid injuring its rib cage or spine. Just slide your hand closer to the head and hold it gently above the floor as shown in the image below. If it starts moving about, perfect, just let it find its own path, relax and enjoy. Stay calm and the snake will not freak out either.

Image coming

To place it back, follow step 2 and 3 in revers order and let the snake escape back into its enclosure alone.


What about snake hooks and tongs, do I really need them?

That really depends on the snake you have got. In my opinion, you should only use hooks and never tongs because they can seriously injure the snakes’’ spine. In the case of non-venomous animal, a hook is not even necessary since most non-venous snake bites are not very painful and do not leave and serious injury. Of course, in the case of very active, defensive or large constrictors, a hook is advisable but beginners should never keep such animals. If you have a large enclosure, a hook can be very useful to get your snake into better positions, but use it with care. If your animal is very defensive, rather consider buying a bite poof glove, but regular handling should turn any beginner pet snake into a gentle companion over time. Any animal that requires handling gear is not even suitable for beginners in the first place.

If you are interested in getting a snake hook or bite proof glove for the unavoidable cases, there is no better place to buy quality snake handling equipment that on Midwest tongs.com. Just click HERE to get your quality snake handling gear.

 


In this article, we have discussed how a beginner snake keeper should handle and pick up his/her snake. Snakes are generally not interested in biting and act accordingly calm if they are not provoked in any way. We have also described several important ways to make sure that your snake does not view you as a potential threat. I hope this article was helpful and you fell a little more secure about handling your pet. I wish you all the best and hope that you soon discover what a beautiful companion and gentle pet snake can be.

Everything you should Know about Venomous Snakes

Venomous snakes have been subject to mythology, tales and great prejudice. But the animals that strike fear in most humans are worth-shipped as gods in other cultures. In reality, they just very and shy and specialized predators.

Although we are always afraid of coming across a venomous snake that will charge us to death, the chance of this happening is actualy virtually non-existent.

Venomous snake, like most animals, are very shy and have never actively charged a human, simply because they are too afraid of us. Furthermore, there are a little more than 3000 snake species distributed all over the world, roughly 600 of them are venomous. However, only about 200 of all venomous snakes are considered medically important, and the chance of being killed by one is very small since antivenin is readily available around the world.

The body temperature of a snake relies on external heat sources which is why they are often seen sunbathing, like this Green Mamba!

In this article, I want to explain how these animals are classified and distributed and how you can tell the different classes apart. As a little bonus, I will include an updated list of the 10 most venomous snake species of the world at the end. The classification of snakes is still subject to change and research, but I will do my best to keep the lists up to date.

Classification

The larges species complex of snakes are the Colubrid snakes (Colubridae). More than half of all the snake species in the world (1700) are Colubrids. Most of them are completely harmless snakes and only a small portion is considered venomous and almost all are medically unimportant.

The largest species complex of “true” venomous snakes are the Elapids (Elapidae). The family of sea snakes (Hydrophiindae) is now a seperate family and used to be a subfamily of the Elapinae. The last large group of venomous snakes are the Vipers (Viperidae), which are separated into 251 species,  33 Genera and four sub-families; Old World Vipers (Viperinae), New World or Pit Vipers (Crotalinae), Azemiops Vipers (Azemiopinae) and the Causinae.

In the following chapters I will explain the different families, what their traits are and how you can tell them apart.


Viperidae

The Viperidae family consist of 4 subfamilies, the Viperinae, Crotalinae, Causinae and Azemiopinae. All Vipers are rather stout bodied snakes and reach a length from only 35cm (Bitis peringuey) to over 2 m (Bitis gabonica, Lachesis muta, Protobothrops mangshanensis). They typically have a triangular shaped head and their anal scale is not divided. Vipers are a common subject in mythology and tales, which may be the reason why they are so feared. However, almost all Vipers are not very defensive and do not want to have anything to do with us humans (there are exception)

Triangular head of Crotalus oreganus

Viperidae Venom composition

Roughly 90% of the venom dry weight is protein, composed of a large variety of enzymes, polypeptide toxins and proteases. The enzymes include hydrolases (proteinases, endo- and exo- peptidases, phosphlipases) hyaluronidase and activators of inhibitors of the preys physiological mechanisms. Almost all venooms contain L – amino acid oxidases, phosophomono- and diesterases, phospolipase A2 and peptidases. Phospholipase A2 are the most wide spread of all snake venom enzymes, attacking mitochondria, red blood cells and leukocytes, peripheral nerve endings and skeletal muscles, causing haemorrhage, necrosis and flacid paralysis in their prey.

All Viperid venom act mostly hemotoxic and haemorrhagic, attacking both the prey clotting mechanism, causing tissue damage and persistent bleeding, or the victims blood pressure, causing the victim to die of shock, stroke or complete cardiac arrest. Although Viperid venom are relatively weak compared to some elapids, the composition of their venom makes a bite highly uncomfortable and extremely painful.

Viperidae Venom apparatus (Solenoglyphous Fangs)

Solenoglyphous venom delivery apparatus of vipers

Snakes mostly rely on their sense of smell to detect their prey. By regularly tasting the air with their tongue, they will recognize prey approaching and strike with precision even at night. Viperidae have the most advanced Fang and venom delivery system of all snake species, so-called solenoglyph fangs. As seen in the image, a Viper can fold their massive fangs back into their mouth. When they strike, they will open their mouth up to 160° wide and unfold their fangs. Like a needle, the fangs are hollow and directly connected to the venom gland to inject their prey with venom. This entire process goes down in less than a second. Sometimes, the animal may even realise that it has been injected with venom until it dies.


Viperidae – Old World Vipers (Viperinae)

First, there are called Old World Vipers or true Vipers because most of their species are distributed across the “Old World” (Africa, east and south-east Asia, Europe) and often look very “viperish”. They consist of 66 species distributed across 12 Genera. Generally, the Viperinae are short and stout bodies snakes with a characteristic triangular head shape and about 50cm – 120cm in length. Some species however, like the Gabon Viper (Bitis rhinoceros) can reach and impressive length of 2 m. These massive snakes are the largest of all Vipers, they have the longest snake fangs in the world (up to 5 cm when fully grown) and can deliver the largest quantity of venom (500 mg) of all snakes in one bite.

Cerastes Cerastes - horned sand vipers
Cerastes Cerastes – sand vipers, ambush position burried in the sand

Old World Vipers are mostly ambush predators, which means that they can sit in the same spot for many days and wait their prey to pass by. Then, they will strike at an incredible speed and usually hold their prey in their jaws until it succumbs. Some smaller vipers like most European Vipers (Vipera) will let go of their prey after striking to avoid risking injury. All Vipers can strike at an incredible speed and will can bite, inject venom and release their prey in less than a second. Old World Vipers are seldom seen actively hunting or searching for prey. If a Viper is seen on the move, it may be changing its spot, basking for some energy in the sun, or on the lookout for a mate during mating season. Generally, a viper will flee if it notices a threat, such as humans approaching. However, if confronted it will hiss very loudly, puff its body up to look bigger and strike if the treat does not back off. Some Vipers have such good camouflage that they will trust it to conceal them completely and not move at all. Most accidents happen because people step on the snake they did not even see and get bit, which is neither the snakes, nor the humans fault.


Viperidae – New World Vipers (Crotalinae)

The New World Vipers or Pit Vipers consist of 151 species distributed across 18 genera. Like the Old World Vipers, they are mostly ambush predators, although some species are highly active hunters. Pit Vipers mostly hunt at night, where they also rely on their smell, but also highly on their Heat Pits, which give them their name. Heat Pit refer to the two holes on the front of their head (image below), close and similar to their nasal bits, but larger.

Heat pits of pit viper
Heat pits of asian tree viper (Trimeresurus)

Inside these head pit are two highly sensitive membranes that detect changes in infrared radiation, much like a night-vision device. Like this, pit vipers are able to sense differences in heat radiation with up impressive 0.03° Celsius accuracy. This enables them to strike with incredible precision at their prey.

Like Old World Vipers, Pit Vipers are generally not very defensive and would rather be left alone. Some have developed highly interesting warning behaviors, like the commonly known rattlesnakes (Crotalus, Sistrurus). With every shed a rattle snake goes through, one piece of bone rattle is added to their tale to scare away potential threats.

Pit Vipers could be considered the ultimate predator since they have such highly advanced hunting mechanisms and strategies that enable them to hunt with a low failure rate.


Viperidae – Azemiop Vipers (Azemiopinae)

The Azemiopinae are a smaller group of Vipers endemic to southeast Asia. They include one Genus and two recognized species (Azemiops feae, Azemiops kharini). These species are very rare and hide deep in the jungle. Due to human activities, their vulnerable habitat is highly threatened.


Viperidae – Causinae

The Causinae are also a small species complex featuring only one Genus and six species, and are distributed all over Africa. They are often call false Vipers, because unlike most Vipers, they are slender and do not have a triangular head shape. However, their venom composition, genetic traits and Venom apparatus causes them to be classified as Vipers.


Elapidae

Elapids are the larges species complex of venomous snakes, formerly including two sub families, The Hydrophiinae (Sea snakes), and the Elapinae (land-bases elapids). Now the Hydrophiinae are recognized as an individual family but the are closely related. These snakes resemble Colubrid snakes, with their longs, slender bodies and a head that is not visually separated from the neck. Elapids feature many commonly known snakes like cobras, mambas and taipans and often have a reputation for being aggressive. However, this is just because elapids are very active during the day and often end up close to human settlements, causing frequent interactions that threaten the snake and provoke it to act defensively.

Venom apparatus

Elapids are front fanged venomous, or proteroglyphous. This means that their fangs are short, located at the font of their mouth cannot be folded like viper can. Some people often question whether elapids can even pierce the skin of their prey enough or bite through a jacked. The answer is no and yes, Elapids can indeed easily bite through a jecked. Just pierce your jacket with a short needle, it is almost the same and get get almost anywhere. And no, Elapids may not be able to sink their teeth in as deep as Vipers, but they do not need to since their venom composition is different

proteroglyphous fangs of a green Mamba (Dendroaspis Viridis)

Venom composition

Elapid venom travels through the lymphatic system, which is located directly underneath the skin. Their venom also consist mainly of Enzymes such as Kunitz peptides, Acetylcholine inhibitors (Acetylcholinesterase) and alpha- and beta- neurotoxic Phospholipases A1 and A2. The largest group is probably made of neurotoxic three-finger peptides, which efficiently shut down the preys nervous system. An elapids Victim may die of shock, complete cardiac arrest due to flaccid paralysis or shut down of nervous system. Elapid toxins may be much more toxic than Viperid toxins, but the effects are not very painful in comparison. A sea snakes victim may succumb in less than 5min, but feel almost like falling asleep.


Elapidae – Elapids (Elapinae)

The Elapinae, or land-based elapids are the largest species complex of true venomous snakes, including cobras, mambas, taipans and coral snakes. Elpapids are very active snakes and can often be seen hunting for their prey during the day. Compared to viper, they are more defensive, but also more predictable since their active body langue tell you how the snake feels. They may not have such advanced Venom delivery mechanisms like viper, but their do not need it. Elapids will actively look for prey and sense their presence with the flickering tongue, often ending up chasing their prey. After striking, Elapids usually hold on to their victim and sometimes start swallowing while its still alive. Their fast acting, potent venom makes in impossible for the victim to defend itself.

Defensive hood of an albino Naja kaouthia (by Mark Kostich)

When confronted, Elapids will try to escape, before hissing, twitch and striking to chase their threat away. Often, they will strike out many times consecutively, but without delivering any doses of venom (dry biting). This is to scare they threat and avoid wasting precious venom. Some have developed super cool defensive strategies, like the cobra, who spreads its top rips to seem larger and scare its opponent.


Elapidae – Sea snakes (Hydropiinae)

Sea snakes, Hydrophiidae, are a rather small, now individual family featuring only 11 Genera. However, all of them possess extremely potent toxins, most even more toxic than those of any land snakes. They actively hunt for fish or small aquatic mammals, which they kill almost instantly with their toxic venom. They mostly rely on their sense of water pressure, trough which they can detect slight movements around them to locate their pres. Sea snakes usually stay underwater anywhere from 1 – 3 hours, after which they will take a short breath at the surface. They have all developed a flat shaped tail, to aid them with swimming.


Colubridae – Venomous (rear-fanged) Colubrids

All colubrid snakes have a duvernoic gland, which can technically store and produce venom. However, almost all Colubrids lack a sufficient delivery mechanism, which means that most are not considered venomous.

However, some feature a primitive deliver mechanism on their rear fangs (aglyphous).

Aglyphous fangs of rear-fanged venomous colubrids

Unlike Elapids or Vipers, rear-fanged venomous Colubrids do not have needle like teeth for injection. Instead, they squeeze their venom out of their gland located directly above the rear fangs, which then runs down said rear fang and is delivered to the prey in the case of a bite.

Venom Composition

The venom of most colubrids is considered medically not important, being either too weak or of too low quantity to do any damage to humans. Roughly 100 species however, like the boomslang or the yellow cat snake (Boiga dendrophila) include highly advanced cytotoxic and myotoxic components that target the victims intracellular tissue and muscle cell leading to and extremely painful death. Their is not much know yet about the exact components of the Venoms, which is why I cannot include further information here.

Boiga dendrophila resting on a branch

Colubrids are distributed all over the world and can be encountered in almost any habitat. When confronted, they beave much like Elapids, hissing, striking and trying to flee with incredible jerky and fast movements that make them hard and dangerous to handle.


I hope you are now a bit more knowledgeable about Venomous snakes and have learned to appreciate their huge diversity and incredible features. You have now learned to understand how venomous snakes are classified, distributed and how they differ around the world. Remember that snakes to not mean you any harm and mostly want to be left alone. Under no circumstances do they want to bite and waster their precious venom on you. Now as promised, here is a list of

The 10 most Venomous land snakes in the World

  • Bungarus candidus (Malaysia)
  • Oxyuranus microlepidotus (Australia)
  • Pseudonaja textilis (Australia)
  • Oxyuranus scutellatus (Australia)
  • Bungarus multicinctus (Taiwan)
  • Notechis scutatus (Australia)
  • Pseudonaja mengdeni (Australia)
  • Pseudechis australis (Australia)
  • Austrelaps superbus (Australia)
  • Acantophis antarcticus (Australia)

This list is according to the LD50 scale for mice, which means that there may be other lists that follow a different order according to a different scale. All these snakes are incredibly venomous and they potency may vary according to locations and individuals. Such a list should not be used as a reference for the most dangerous snake, since that depends mostly on temper, defensiveness, quantity of venom delivered and physiological attributes of the victim. All venomous snakes are potentially very dangerous and should never be handled by unexperienced people.

If you are interested in my sources, click HERE!