Colloquial/Common Names: Bergadder (Afrikaans); Irhamba lamatye (isiXhosa).

Taxonomy: Class: Reptilia; Order: Squamata; Suborder: Serpentes (Ophidia); Family: Viperidae; Subfamily: Viperinae. Ongoing molecular studies may reveal additional species currently under the name Bitis atropos.

Identification: A smallish, thick-set adder with a somewhat elongated head. Reddish-brown to dark grey, with a series of black triangular to rectangular markings along the back and sides, often bordered by white.

Size: Adults average 300-500mm total length.

Distribution: Three disjunct distribution ranges in South Africa, with a fourth in eastern Zimbabwe. 1.) Western and Eastern Cape. 2.) Lesotho and KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg. 3.) Escarpment of Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Swaziland.

Habitat: Fynbos in the Western and Eastern Cape and rocky Grassland elsewhere, where they shelter under rocks and rock slabs.

Activity & Behaviour: Diurnal and nocturnal, terrestrial. Fond of basking in grassy tussocks and rocky ledges where they present a slight hazard to hikers and mountaineers.

Diet & Feeding: Lizards and small rodents, and probably frogs as well.

Reproduction: Females give birth to 4-15 live young.

Danger to humans: This snake has a peculiar neurotoxic venom which has a particular effect on the cranial nerves, affecting eyesight, taste and smell. No fatalities are known, but loss of consciousness has been recorded.

Conservation Status: Least Concern, although its status will need to be reassessed once there is clarity on the taxonomy of the various populations, as some Mpumalanga populations have been decimated due to illegal collecting.

References and Recommended Further Reading:

  • Alexander, G. & Marais, J. 2007. A Guide to the Reptiles of Southern Africa. Struik Publishers.
  • Bates, M. F., Branch, W. R., Bauer, A. M., Burger, M., Marais, J., Alexander, G. J., & de Villiers, M. S. (eds). 2014. Atlas and Red List of the Reptiles of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. Suricata 1. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
  • Branch, W. R. 1998. Field Guide to Snakes and other Reptiles of Southern Africa. Struik Publishers.
  • Broadley, D. G. 1990. FitzSimons’ Snakes of Southern Africa. Jonathan Ball and Ad. Donker Publishers.

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