Puff Adder

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Hidden at dawn

A puff adder (Bitis arietans) lies in a lone clump of grasses under a small acacia at dawn, scrunching up its cold rotund body close to the main stem. Wattled starlings (Creatophora cinerea) and superb starlings (Lamprotornis superbus) flocked atop the tiny tree, mobbing the viper unabatedly in hopes of spooking it off away from their nests. This individual was not only my first puff adder, but my first snake in the subfamily Viperinae. They are distinct from other vipers in lacking external pits for infrared sensation. Beyond the mind-boggling mosaic V-shaped pattern on this stunning individual, it was strange for me to see only the two circular nostrils on the rostrum. The head almost appears as if it is facing upwards, with the eyes slanted at a diagonal. In its desert-dwelling congener, Bitis peringueyi, the head shape is even more exaggerated, allowing the snake to completely submerge itself under the sand while poking its two eyes above the surface. Because puff adders are so thick and heavy, they use rectilinear locomotion. The ventral surface of the body expands and contracts to propel the body forward, with waves of chubby caterpillar-like movements cascading down the body from head to tail. I can almost imagine a caterpillar’s tiny prolegs hiding underneath the snake’s body to allow for this bizarre method of locomotion.

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Too many similar photos of this wonderful snake (my first puff adder), but here they are!

All in situ [1]

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As initially spotted
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