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The largest viper in Africa, the Gaboon can grow to over 7 feet in length, with an average length of just under 4 feet, and weighs 15 to 22 pounds. Females are generally larger and heavier than males. The Gaboon also has the largest fangs of all venomous snakes, about 2 inches long in a full-grown adult. The large triangular-shaped head tapers into a narrow neck and a large, thick body.
Color patterns of Gaboon Vipers form a symmetrical design that makes a unique pattern on the scales. The base color is usually brown or purple, on top of which are yellow quadrangles that are aligned over the center of the back. The quadrangles have hourglass-shaped brown spaces, and there are brown or purple triangles along the sides of the body, with yellow and purple stains between each. The ventral side is light yellow with dark spots, and the eyes are grayish with a hint of silver.
Distribution and Habitat
Gaboon Vipers are found throughout much of the tropical regions of sub-Saharan Africa, and are most abundant in rainforests and other moist, tropical habitats. There are two subspecies, based on geography -- the East African, B. g. gabonica; and the West African, B. g. rhinoceros. The two subspecies are similar in overall appearance, but the West African has a pair of "horns" between its nostrils.
The Gaboon Viper uses its coloration to blend into the forest floor and await its prey. Most of its diet consists of rodents, ground-living or feeding birds, and frogs and toads, but specimens have been found to have ingested giant rats, brush-tailed porcupines, and even fully grown royal antelopes.
Gaboon Vipers generally mate in the rainy season, which froms September through December. The female gives birth to 30-40 live offspring after a gestation period of 7 months. Already about a foot long at birth, the young are immediately on their own and receive no post-birth care or protection.
Gaboon Vipers are most active around sunset. Except for breeding, they are solitary. They are considered extremely docile snakes, and do not usually attack humans unless they are seriously provoked.
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This page was last updated on July 13, 2017.