How To Recognize a Viper


Authored by Rodney Southern in Nature and Wildlife 
Published on 03-10-2009

A viper is a family of snakes that are famous the world over primarily due to their venomous nature. Some of the world’s most dangerous snakes are vipers, and they are found throughout the majority of the world. In North America, there are three major types of vipers. The rattlesnake, cottonmouth, and the copperhead are the three types of viper found in North America. Within these broad families, there are a number of subspecies such as the Eastern diamondback, western diamondback, and pygmy rattlesnake among others. The vipers in North America are pit vipers.

A viper generally can be described as a stout snake, that can vary wildly in length. They generally have a very narrow neck with a pronounced triangular shaped head. This head shape is partly due to the large venom glands that are located in the snake’s jaws. A viper also has hollow fangs that fold into the roof of the snake’s mouth when the mouth is closed. When a viper strikes, the fangs unhinge and stab at the prey. Venom is then released in specific amounts determined by the viper into the prey. This method of venom delivery is quite unusual in that they only use what they think they need. A small rat would not necessarily get the same dose that a large rabbit might for example. This allows the viper to maintain the supply of venom needed to survive. It also explains why some human snake bites are “dry” bites. That is, no venom was injected.

A viper only bites for two reasons; to defend itself and to eat. If it is defending itself, it will not want to waste precious venom that it might later need to eat.

Another common trait of the viper family is bright coloration. This is not universal in the family, but quite common. Bright colors means danger in nature, and the viper is certainly qualified in that area. The bright colored snakes on the whole are venomous. That is not one hundred percent the case, but it is common over the range of the different snake species.

Vipers also are known for a lightening quick bite. The vipers of the world are among the fastest strikers. Examples of these would be the puff adders of Africa, the Gaboon viper, and the saw scaled viper. Though they are a bit slower generally when it comes to moving, they are very fast biters. Many times people are bitten by vipers before they are even aware that a snake is around. This is one of the biggest dangers where vipers and humans are concerned.

Vipers are a wonderful part of our natural surroundings and we must be respectful of their place in our ecosystem. Though on the surface it seems that they are just dangerous reptiles, the truth is they are a huge part of the natural order. If we removed vipers, we would be overcome by rats, mice and various other vermin species. They should be admired, but only from a distance.


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