Colloquial/Common Names: Pofadder (Afrikaans); Lebolobolo (Setswana); irhamba (isiXhosa); Imbululu (isiZulu).

Taxonomy: Class: Reptilia; Order: Squamata; Suborder: Serpentes (Ophidia); Family: Viperidae; Subfamily: Viperinae. The subspecies Bitis arietans arietans is found South Africa, but there is noticeable genetic variation across this snakes extensive range.

Identification: A large, heavy-bodied snake with keeled scales and a triangular head. Body colouration various shades of brown with a series of black, pale-edged chevrons across the body.

Size: Adults average 700mm-1 200mm.

Distribution: Widely distributed and common across most of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, but more rare at higher altitudes in Lesotho and also apparently absent (or very rare) around Johannesburg and the East Rand (Ekurhuleni) in Gauteng.

Habitat: Found across all Biomes in South Africa – particularly common in Savanna and Fynbos, but also Grassland, Albany Thicket, Succulent Karoo, Nama-Karoo and Indian Ocean Coastal Belt.

Activity & Behaviour: Terrestrial, nocturnal and diurnal depending on weather and season. Males are particularly active in the mating season. Fond of basking where they rely on their cryptic colours to avoid detection.

Diet & Feeding: Largely rodents, including rats, mice, gerbils etc.

Reproduction: Females give birth to an average litter of 20-40 live young.

Danger to humans: This snake has a potent cytotoxic venom and very dangerous. Bites are painful and usually associated with extensive swelling and tissue destruction.

Conservation Status: Least Concern.

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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