Rhinoceros Viper:Bitis Nasicornis

Appearance and Physiology
The Rhinoceros Viper is one of three species of Puff Adders. Adults usually grow to a length of between two and four feet. The Rhinoceros Viper is a thick snake, with a broad diamond shaped head, but a relatively thin neck. The snake gets its name from the small protrusions that it has on its head, just above the nostrils.

Rhinoceros Vipers tend to have elaborate colouring. This is adaptive, so a viper will have colouring which is best suited to camoflaging it in the environment in which it grew up. The scales of the viper can vary in colour between various shades of grey, brown and tan.

Like the other Puff Adders the Rhinoceros Viper can "inflate" its body when excited. If provoked by a human this often precedes a strike. The Rhinoceros Viper is extremely dangerous to humans. It has long fangs that fold flat against the top of the mouth when not in use. The fangs can be moved up or down as the snake wills, and are not necessarily down when its mouth is open. The Rhinoceros Viper is usually able to strike a distance of about half its body length.

Although not very much venom is delivered in a strike, it is the potency of this venom that makes the Rhinoceros Viper so dangerous to humans. The venom affects both the nervous sytem and the tissues. The element of the venom that damages tissue is that which is more dangerous. Blood vessels are destoyed, and considerable internal bleeding occurs, which may result in shock, soon followed by death. Extensive necrosis of the other tissues occurs around the bite location.

Range and Habitat
The Rhinocerous Viper occurs naturally in most parts of central and eastern Africa. Its preferred habitats are swamps and forests. Despite its very dangerous nature, some people keep Rhinocerous Vipers as pets, a move that would seem very unwise.

Behaviour
Whilst usually inactive, the Rhinocerous Viper is capable of very quick movement when necessary, both in terms of ground movement, and speed of striking. Like most snakes it moves by dragging itself along the ground with its scales while rhythmically contracting and relaxing muscles along its length. The usual prey for such a snake would include small to mid sized mammals, such as mice or monkeys, depending on what could be caught.

Sources
Poisonous Snakes of the World
Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia

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