Did you know that some snakes give birth to living young? - News - Gondwana Collection


Gondwana's Newsroom

Did you know that some snakes give birth to living young?

Avatar of inke inke - 30. March 2018 - Environment

Dirk Heinrich

A total of 24 little puff adders (Bitis arietans) were born within a few hours. They were between 21.1 and 25.6 centimetres long and weighed between 15 and 22 grams. The mother’s length was 87 cm and after giving birth she weighed 890 grams. The young snakes were born in a transparent membrane, which they effortlessly broke through and then crawled away to hide. They were barely dry when they shed their skin for the first time. Even baby puff adders are venomous. 

Most snakes are oviparous and deposit their eggs in places which are sufficiently humid and remain consistently warm. But otherwise they do not take care of the clutch at all. When the young snakes hatch they have to fend for themselves. Young puff adders are also left to their own devices. Very few snakes, like the African rock python (Python natalensis), remain with their eggs and also stay with the hatchlings for a few days. 

Almost all the adders and vipers (horned viper, many-horned adder, sand viper) as well as the non-venomous mole snake (Pseudaspis cana) are viviparous (live-bearing) snakes. A puff adder gave birth eight months after mating in captivity. Young snakes have many enemies in their natural environment and it is not known how many of them survive to adulthood, i.e. reach sexual maturity. A puff adder born in captivity increased its length from 21 cm to 35 cm in the course of three years. 

Myths about puff adders and other snakes abound. Some people believe that young snakes have to eat their way out of the womb, because the opening of the birth canal is almost invisible. Others maintain that puff adders can strike backwards and that in case of danger they bite into their tail and roll down the hill. None of this is true. When under attack, puff adders move forward in a sideways fashion: almost half of the body slides forward, is propped up in the middle, while the rear follows, after which the front moves on again. Puff adders can strike extremely fast – so fast that the human eye cannot register the movement. This is probably something that has contributed to the myths. 

Puff adders are responsible for the majority of snakebites in southern Africa because, like most of the vipers and adders, they rely on their camouflage instead of disappearing, as most other snakes do, when sensing imminent danger. Their cytotoxic venom destroys tissue. Polyvalent snake antivenom is readily available and successfully used for treating puff adder bites. 

Comments are disabled for this post.



01. April 2018

Wow that is very interesting thank you for broading my knowledge... I so appreciate your work and information sharing. I applaud you

Stay up-to-date with our monthly 'Gondwana Tracks' Newsletter Sign up Today