Bush Viper

Last updated: May 27, 2024
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Mark_Kostich/Shutterstock.com

Bush vipers are predators, sinking their fangs into prey while dangling from a tree limb


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Bush Viper Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Reptilia
Order
Squamata
Family
Viperidae
Genus
Atheris

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Bush Viper Conservation Status

Bush Viper Locations

Bush Viper Locations

Bush Viper Facts

Prey
small mammals and birds
Name Of Young
Neonates
Group Behavior
  • Solitary
Fun Fact
Bush vipers are predators, sinking their fangs into prey while dangling from a tree limb
Other Name(s)
African viper, variable bush viper, green viper, tree viper, rough-scaled viper, green bush viper, and leaf viper
Gestation Period
6-7 months
Litter Size
Between nine and 12 at a time
Diet
Carnivore
Lifestyle
  • Nocturnal
Common Name
Bush viper, tree viper
Number Of Species
18

Bush Viper Physical Characteristics

Skin Type
Scales
Lifespan
10–20 years
Weight
4.4–8.1 pounds
Length
18–24 inches
Venomous
Yes
Aggression
Low

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The bush viper is a venomous reptile in Africa. The snakes typically prefer low and thick flowering bushes and rainforests. A solitary creature, the bush viper is arboreal and terrestrial. Their colors make for exceptional camouflage. They blend into their ecosystems and ambush prey.

Bush vipers are predators, sinking their fangs into prey while dangling from a tree limb. The viper’s diet is primarily small mammals and reptiles like lizards, toads, and birds. For the hunt, the bush viper uses two hollow front fangs.

When they bite, prey gets injected with a hemotoxic venom that cripples its defenses. With a weight of between four to eight pounds, the snakes are extremely quick and capable of taking out prey in milliseconds after remaining still for long periods.

These vipers go by many common names that include the African viper, variable bush viper, green viper, tree viper, rough-scaled viper, green bush viper, and leaf viper.

5 Amazing Bush Viper Facts

Did you know these curious identification facts about the bush viper?

  • The viper comes in variations of orange, red, gray, black, yellow, blue, brown, and olive. But those colors can change throughout the snake’s lifespan.
  • The African bush viper typically finds habitats far from humans.
  • There is no antivenom to counteract the venomous bite of the bush viper.
  • Unlike many reptiles, bush vipers do not lay eggs. They give live birth.
  • These vipers prefer living alone and in zoos and might cannibalize each other.

Where to Find Them

Keeping their distance from human settlements, vipers prefer remote locations in West and Central African rainforests, mountains, and deserts.



Types of Bush Viper

The head of the Bush viper, like the rest of the body, is thickly covered with imbricate, keeled scales.

The head of the Bush viper, like the rest of the body, is thickly covered with imbricate, keeled scales.

Bush vipers are members of the genus Atheris. There are about 18 species in the genus.

Vipers have a skin of keeled scales, helping them blend into their surroundings. All members of the species are venomous and unpredictable.

These animals bite, and their venom causes impaired breathing, fever, severe inflammation, and worse.

Here are some of the more common species:

  • Spiny Bush Viper – The Atheris hispida‘s keeled scales stick out and produce a spiny, hairy appearance. Also called a dragon bush viper, the spiny bush viper body is a blend of green colors with dark scale tips. Male dragon bush vipers tend to be slender in comparison to spiny bush viper females.
  • Unzungwe Bush Viper – The Unzungwe (Atheris barbouri) is commonly known as the worm-eating viper. They hide in the mountains of Tanzania. The Unzungwe bush viper is one of the viper family’s smaller reptiles. They have round, large eyes in their triangular heads.
  • Cameroon Bush Viper – Also known as Broadley’s bush viper and labeled Atheris broadleyi by the scientific community, the Cameroon Bush Viper is a stunner with an array of gorgeous colors. We do know they grow up to 30 inches, but much else isn’t known about the Cameroon Bush Viper.
  • Usumbara Bush Viper – The beautiful Atheris ceratophora is also called horned bush viper, eyelash bush viper, and horned tree viper. Their appearance is distinguished by protrusions above the eyes that resemble horns.
  • West African Bush Viper – With its soft green body and light yellow spotting, the West African bush viper (Atheris clorechis) is commonly known as the West African tree viper; it is slim-bodied with a long tail. They grow between 20–28 inches in size. Like its cousins, this viper waits long periods for prey to cross into its territory.
  • Mount Kenya Bush Viper – The Atheris desaixi has black/green to charcoal colors with pale yellow tips on its scales. The various hues of yellow create a swishing pattern. These snakes are unique to Kenya, hence the name.
  • Tai Hairy Bush Viper – The Tai viper, or Atheris hirsuta, resides exclusively in the Tai National Park on the Ivory Coast. Not much info is available on them. The facts are few of these snakes have had their picture taken.
  • Mount Mabu Forest ViperMozambique‘s Mount Mabu is the only place you’ll find the forest viper (Atheris mabuensis). The keeled scales on these predators are prominent. Their colors of brown blended to leave an eye-catching pattern highlighted by golden eyes.
  • Matilda’s Horned Viper – The Atheris matildae, or horned viper, is one of the more recent discoveries in the snake kingdom. They resemble the Usumbara bush viper and are the only other bush viper with horn-like protrusions above their eyes.
  • Great Lakes Bush Viper – Among many of the Great Lakes snakes’ nicknames are the black and green bush viper, sedge viper, and Nitsche’s tree viper. They’re in parts of Africa, including the Central African Albertine Rift forests and the eastern DR Congo. The Atheris nitschei is olive green with black markings.

Scientific Name

Green Bush Viper

The Bush Viper’s scientific name is

Atheris squamigera

.

The bush viper (Atheris squamigera) inhabits Central and Western Africa with a geographic range that extends from Kivu province Kamanyola to the Takamanda Forest Resort in Cameroon.

Other common names for this reptile are variable bush viper, green bush viper, leaf viper, and Hallowell’s green tree viper. Like any viper, a major identification of the species is its venomous toxin.

History and Evolution

Like other snakes, Bush Vipers’ prehistoric ancestors at one point had legs and used them like other legged reptiles, such as turtles, lizards, and alligators. However, at some point millions of years ago, it was advantageous for them to not use their legs as much and they became smaller and eventually disappeared or became vestigial, which is still apparent in some snakes today.

As an extremely venomous snake type, Bush Vipers evolved to pack a very potent strike with their fangs. While some species adapted to constrict or rattle their tails, these vipers survived and thrived because they became efficient killers.

Population & Conservation Status

The bush viper is a big family and is found only in the wilds of Africa. The population is healthy enough that no one’s keeping track of it. This is due to their remote locations, nocturnal activities, and the animal’s unpredictable nature. Facts are not even the International Union for Conservation of Nature has gotten around to assessing the snake’s status.

Appearance and Description

Red Venomous Bush Viper in African Rainforest. The viper comes in variations of orange, red, gray, black, yellow, blue, brown and olive.

Red Venomous Bush Viper in African Rainforest. The viper comes in variations of orange, red, gray, black, yellow, blue, brown and olive.

Atheris squamigera will grow to about, head to tail, 18 to 24 inches. The largest snake might reach 31 inches. Females tend to be the larger of the species.

  • They can have a weight of up to eight pounds.
  • Identification features for the bush viper include a flat, broad head that stands out on a narrow neck.
  • The head, like the rest of the body, is thickly covered with imbricate, keeled scales. The mouth comes with a noticeably large gape.
  • Its nostrils are lateral with the eyes and nasal separated by two scales.
  • The colors are identical in some species and vary in others.
  • Depending on location, colors usually go in hues of green, dark, sage, light, bluish, olive, olive-brown, etc.
  • You might come across the rare reddish, yellow or slate gray.
  • The keeled scales sometimes have yellowed tips that form chevrons or crossbands.
  • The belly is dull to pale olive or yellow.
  • The colors can be uniform or mottled with blackish spotting.

Read here to learn about the largest vipers in the world.

How Dangerous Are They?

Very aggressive Bush Viper (Atheris squamigera) in tree. The average size of the snake is 18 to 24 inches.

Bush Vipers are very aggressive, and the average size of the snake is 18 to 24 inches.

Extremely. At the very least, the venomous viper’s toxic bite will create local pain, tissue damage, swelling, or coagulopathy. Bites from other species can lead to kidney, pituitary gland, and adrenal damage.

There is always the possibility of viper snake bites being fatal. Scientists believe one species, the saw-scaled viper, is responsible for more human deaths than all other snakes combined.

Behavior and Humans

Snake, Great lakes bush viper

The Bush Viper is not a good house pet for a number of reasons, most notably being venomous predator.

The bush viper is a solitary creature, not likely to even spend time with its own kind outside of mating season.

These snakes put a lot of energy into not being around humans, finding habitats away from them. The animals make lousy house pets for a number of reasons, most notably being venomous predators.

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About the Author

Heather Ross is a secondary English teacher and mother of 2 humans, 2 tuxedo cats, and a golden doodle. In between taking the kids to soccer practice and grading papers, she enjoys reading and writing about all the animals!

Bush Viper FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How dangerous is a bush viper?

The creatures have a neurotoxic venom that can damage internal organs and worse. And there is no antitoxin to prevent the harm.

What eats the bush viper?

Predators that the bush viper keeps an eye out for are birds and larger animals. The snake’s venom doesn’t come into play when the animal is under attack. The venom has to enter the bloodstream to do damage. If the snake’s part of another animal’s diet, stomach acids degrade toxin acidity and make the reptile edible.

What is the bush viper's lifespan?

The lifespan of the variable bush viper is dependent on the species. Generally, these creatures have a lifespan between 10 and 20 years.

Is a bush viper a good pet?

No. The most experienced herpetologist will tell you having this venomous snake in your habitat is a great risk.

How big can a bush viper get?

The average size is 18 to 24 inches, though there are records of vipers reaching a size of up to 31 inches.

Are bush viper venomous?

Extremely. The toxic fangs can have a serious effect on the body, including death.

How do bush viper hunt?

They hang from tree branches, their colors allowing them to blend into the ecosystem. The snakes remain still until prey come too close before swiftly attacking.

Where does the bush viper live?

The bush viper is native to mostly central and west African regions.

What does the bush viper eat?

Reptiles like the dragon bush viper diet on small mammals and the occasional bird.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources

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