Arguably Africa's most dangerous reptile, the puff adder (Bitis arietans) is responisible for more
deaths than perhaps any other African vertebrate (parasites cause many more deaths than snakes).
Othe snakes in the genus (Bitis spp.) are also notorious for severity of their bites. They include some of Africa's most deadly snakes.
Most are typical vipers with a very short, squat body, short tail and very wide heads to accommodate the large poison glands. They are highly
fecund and give birth to live young, as many as 70 at a time.
Their earthy colors of brown and green with black diamonds and zigzags blend in well with the soil and dry leaf litter that characterizes
their favored habitats among dry woodlands, thorn forest and shrub savanna.
The group is so-called because of their threat display when the head expands and the snake hisses loudly. As with venoms of other vipers,
puff adder toxin dissolves the blood and tissues. The venom is primarily cytolytic, causing severe swelling even some distance from the bite. The
victim suffers pronounced pain around and beyond the bite region. The venom's neurotoxic components are not as potent as in elapids (e.g., cobra)
so the time to death for viper bite victims is longer than it would be for an equivalent cobra bite. However, with a sufficient dose and lack
of treatment, it is just as inevitable.
These snakes are dangerous because the lazy habits of puff adders raise the possibility of encounter compared to other more active
poisonous snakes. They are sluggish and during daytime lie on rocks or sand or on sunlit bush paths. Most bites happen when people unwittingly
step on a well-disguised puff adder.
The common puff adder (B. arietans) is the most widespread species in this genus and common in open country south of the Sahara. This snake is
the main cause of death from snake-bite in Africa. It is considered the most dangerous of Africa's snakes as it relies on its camouflage and
will remain motionless rather than take evasive action. A person can easily step close enough to make it strike with lightning speed.