By Anders Nielsen, Ph.d.
Gaboon Vipers are found in savannas, forest next to savannas and rainforests. It can only be found in a confined region south of Sahara. It is a heavy and strong snake (4-5 feet) capable of delivering a large dose of venom. Its fangs are approx. 2 inches long. It has a narrow neck and a very characteristic triangular head.
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Bites, venom and effects
The Gaboon Viper is indeed venomous. However, it is a rather calm snake, so most bites occur when people step on them. Bites can be fatal. Besides normal symptoms such as swelling, fewer, convulsions and unconsciousness, blistering is quite common. Most bites occur out in the jungle where the access to antivenin may be poor.
Last 15 minutes of a Monkeys Life
In a study in the journal Primates (Foerster, 2008), the last 15 minutes of a monkeys life after a Gaboon bite was closely monitored went like this:
15 minutes before its death, the monkey sat up but with its head hanging down. It was close to slump forward several times, but managed to push itself back.
During these minutes it convulsed without paying attention to the observer. During the last two to three minutes of its life, the monkey lay down and its breathig became very shallow until its death occurred.
Diet & Prey Selection
According to a study in the South African Journal of Wildlife (Perrin & Bodbijl 2001), Gaboon Viper diet consists of mammals and birds almost entirely.
The distribution of the two food sources is shown to the right. The larger the Gaboon Snake, the more of its diet would be from rodents (mammals).
The study also showed that the mammals eaten had a size of less than 20 percent of the snakes own weight, and that juvenile snakes had a liking for shrews.
Reproduction and Juvenile Gaboon’s
A note from Chicago Zoological Park from 1949 in the magazine “Copeia” describes a typical birth of juvenile Gaboon snakes and the first period of their lives.
26 out of 27 born snakes were healthy. 6 were born before parturition, or labor, was observed. Snake seven and eight were born with approximately 30 minutes between them. They remained in their egg membrane for about 30 seconds before rupturing it. The juvenile snakes had an average length of almost one feet.
Eight days after birth seven small mice was fed to the juvenile snakes. The mice were attacked immediately without further investigation of the prey. A few days later some newborn rats were fed to the young Gaboon Vipers. A few of the relatively small snakes did not want to eat the rats, but others did. Two daus later, all Gaboon Vipers had no problems in eating new born rats.
At some point two of the Gaboon Vipers had to be separated due to a fight over a mouse one of the Gaboons wanted to take from another Gaboon.
Perrin MR, Bodbijl T, Diet and prey selection of the gaboon adder in Zululand (KwaZulu-Natal), South Africa South African Journal of Wildlife Research 31(3-4) pp. 127-134 (2001)
Snedigar R and Rokosky EJ, NOTES ON NEW-BORN GABOON VIPERS Copeia (1949)
Foerster S, Two incidents of venomous snakebite on juvenile blue and Sykes monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis stuhlmanni and C. m. albogularis) Primates 49 pp. 300-303 (2008)
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