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the web of life in southern Africa

Bitis arietans (Puff adder)

Poffadder [Afrikaans]; iBululu [Xhosa / Zulu / Ndebele]; iRambi [Xhosa]; iHobosha [Zulu]; Lerabe, Marabe, Thamaha, Thama-dinkotsane [South Sotho]; Lebolobolo [Tswana & North Sotho]; Vuluvulu [Venda]; Chiva [Shona]; Mhiri [Tsonga]

 Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Lepidosauromorpha > Lepidosauria > Squamata > Serpentes (snakes) > Family: Viperidae > Genus: Bitis

Bitis arietans (Puff adder), Western Cape [T. Phelps , from  SARCA Virtual Museum]

Bitis arietans (Puff adder), Western Cape [M. Witberg & R. Albertyn , from SARCA Virtual Museum]


This species is easily identified by its short fat body, its keeled (rough scaled) body, chevron markings and its  loud hissing when disturbed. The Puff adder averages 90 cm in length but can reach up to 1.5 meters long.

Distribution and habitat

Widespread, with a distribution ranging throughout Southern Africa, East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. It is found in almost any habitat except for mountain tops, true deserts and dense forest (although they can climb trees)


Consists mostly of rodents ( e.g. rats and mice) but also includes birds , amphibians (e.g. frogs and toads) and lizards

Predators, parasites and disease

The Puff adder is primarily preyed on by Herpistidae (particularly mongooses and honey badgers), birds of prey (e.g. secretary birds and snake eagles ), warthogs, and other snakes. Although people don't prey on them they do kill them. Puff adders are highly vulnerable to diseases of the mouth and may also be heavily infested with both internal and external parasites.


Viviparous (gives birth to live young); mating takes place between October and December and the females give birth to their young between December and April.   


Has been known to live for up to 14 years or more.

Medical importance

Has a powerful though slow acting cytotoxic venom (taking up 24 hours to take effect), which it delivers through its particularly long fangs. This snake is dangerous because of its wide distribution and its habit lying on paths and therefore being stepped on. It is responsible for many snake bite incidents but few fatalities. Although it is a potential emergency if you are bitten there is an effective anti venom is available. 



  • Broadley, D.G. 1983. FitzSimons' Snakes of Southern Africa. Delta Books, Johannesburg.

  • Marais, J. 2004. A Complete Guide to Snakes of Southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.