Bitis atropos

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Bitis atropos
Bitis atropos, Berg Adder in the Cedarberg.jpg
Color variant typical of the Cedarberg, about 32.33° South, 19.1° East.
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Viperidae
Genus: Bitis
Species: B. atropos
Binomial name
Bitis atropos
(Linnaeus, 1758)
Bitis atropos distribution.png
  • Coluber atropos Linnaeus, 1754
  • [Coluber] Atropos Linnaeus, 1758
  • Cobra Atropos Laurenti, 1768
  • Vipera Atropos
    Sonnini & Latreille, 1801
  • [Vipera (Echidna)] Atropos
    Merrem, 1820
  • Vipera montana A. Smith, 1826
  • [Echidna] Atropos Wagler, 1830
  • Clotho [(Bitis)] Atropos
    Gray, 1842
  • E[chidna]. ocellata Tschudi, 1845
  • Calechidna ocellata — Tschudi, 1845
  • Edchidna atropos A.M.C. Duméril, Bibron & A.H.A. Duméril, 1854
  • Bitis atropos Günther, 1858
  • V[ipera]. (Echidna) atropos
    Jan, 1863
  • Bitis atropos Boulenger, 1896
  • [Bitis atropos] atropos
    FitzSimons, 1959
  • Bitis atropos unicolor
    FitzSimons, 1959
  • Bitis atropos atropos
    Broadley, 1962
  • Bitis atropos
    Carpenter & Ferguson, 1977
  • Bitis atropos — Broadley, 1983
  • Viper atropos — Golay et al., 1993
  • Bitis atropos — Golay et al., 1993[2]
Common names: berg adder,[3] Cape mountain adder, mountain adder.[4][5]

Bitis atropos is a small, venomous viper species endemic to mountainous regions in southern Africa.[2] No subspecies are currently recognized.[6]


The average adult size is 30–40 cm (about 12-16 inches) in total length (body + tail), with some females reaching a maximum total length of 50 cm (20 in) in the wild and 60 cm (24 in) in captivity.

Geographic range[edit]

The species is found in isolated populations of the mountainous regions of southern Africa.[2] In South Africa, the species is known to occur in the Transvaal, along the Drakensberg escarpment of the eastern and northern Transvaal. Elsewhere in South Africa, it occurs in western Natal, Lesotho and eastern Free State, and in the southern coastal mountains of western and eastern Cape Province.[2] Spawls and Branch (1995) also mentioned, in Cape Province, its range extends into the Cape Peninsula.[3][7] It also occurs in Swaziland, in higher altitudes of eastern Zimbabwe such as the Inyanga Highlands and Chimanimani Mountains and in nearby Mozambique.[8]

The type locality given is "America", but this is obviously a mistake. More likely is the Cape of Good Hope, according to FitzSimons (1962).[2]


This snake occupies a number of different habitats, but prefers relatively cool environments with high levels of precipitation. In the northern part of its range, where the winters are cold and dry and the summers warm and wet, it is therefore restricted to higher elevations, up to 3,000 m (9,800 ft). In Zimbabwe, it is not found below 1,500 m (4,900 ft), usually associated with mountain slopes and rocky hillsides, but also montane grassland with patches of bushes and shrubs.[3][4]

In the southern part of its range (Cape Province, South Africa), where the winters are cold and wet and the summers warm and dry, it can be found in coastal and mountain heathland, as well as small rock outcrops at sea level and grassy areas with clumps of bushes and shrubs west of the Cape Peninsula.[3][4][7]

Venom and diet[edit]

The Berg adder is unusual among Bitis species in that its venom is predominantly neurotoxic,[3] so much so that the effects of the bite seldom include necrosis or infection. The snake is described as "irascible", hissing violently and twisting convulsively if molested.[9]

Presumably, the neurotoxic venom is an adaptation to the prey, which largely comprise rock lizards and small amphibians. It does, however, also eat other animals, such as small rodents and young of ground-nesting birds. The venom is not powerful enough for the dose injected at a single strike to kill an adult human, and there do not seem to be any records of human fatalities. However, whether at threat or not, patients do not seem to respond usefully to antivenin, so treatment should be limited to symptomatic control. Such as the effects of the venom are, they take effect quickly. Symptoms of the bite have been compared to alcohol intoxication and are not permanent. Unlike the bites of elapid snakes, Bitis atropos bites, though neurotoxic, do not cause obvious effects on heart and respiratory functions. However, they can be troublesome and their effects sometimes persist for some days or even weeks, which suggests the venom causes nerve damage that does not mend quickly if it is severe. Obvious symptoms may include loss of smell or taste, drooping eyelids and loss of vision.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Joger, U. & Turner, A.A. (2010). "itis atropos". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 11 May 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d e McDiarmid RW, Campbell JA, Touré T. 1999. Snake Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference, Volume 1. Herpetologists' League. 511 pp. ISBN 1-893777-00-6 (series). ISBN 1-893777-01-4 (volume).
  3. ^ a b c d e Spawls S, Branch B. 1995. The Dangerous Snakes of Africa. Ralph Curtis Books. Dubai: Oriental Press. 192 pp. ISBN 0-88359-029-8.
  4. ^ a b c Mallow D, Ludwig D, Nilson G. 2003. True Vipers: Natural History and Toxinology of Old World Vipers. Krieger Publishing Company, Malabar, Florida. 359 pp. ISBN 0-89464-877-2.
  5. ^ Bitis atropos at the Reptile Database. Accessed 2 August 2007.
  6. ^ "Bitis atropos". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 24 July 2006. 
  7. ^ a b Berg adder (Bitis atropos) Archived 28 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ G.V. Haagner; J. Hurter (1988). "Additional Distribution Records of the Berg Adder Bitis atropos in the South-eastern Transvaal and Swaziland". African Protected Area Conservation and Science. 31 (1). 
  9. ^ Rose, Walter. 1950. The Reptiles and Amphibians of Southern Africa. Maskew Miller.
  10. ^ Branch, Bill. 1988. Field Guide to the Snakes and other Reptiles of Southern Africa. Struik.

Further reading[edit]

  • Boulenger GA. 1896. Catalogue of the Snakes in the British Museum (Natural History). Volume III., Containing the...Viperidæ. London: Trustees of the British Museum (Natural History). (Taylor and Francis, printers.) xiv + 727 pp. + Plates I.- XXV. (Bitis atropos, pp. 495–496.)
  • Branch, Bill. 2004. Field Guide to Snakes and Other Reptiles of Southern Africa. Third Revised edition, Second impression. Sanibel Island, Florida: Ralph Curtis Books. 399 pp. ISBN 0-88359-042-5. (Bitis atropos, pp. 115–116 + Plate 12.)
  • Broadley DG, Cock EV. 1975. Snakes of Rhodesia. Zimbabwe: Longman Zimbabwe Ltd. 97 pp.
  • Broadley DG. 1990. FitzSimons' Snakes of Southern Africa. Parklands (South Africa): J Ball & AD Donker Publishers. 387 pp.
  • Duméril A-M-C, Bibron G, Duméril A. 1854. Erpétologie générale ou histoire naturelle complète des reptiles. Tome septième. Deuxième partie. Paris: Roret. xii + pp. 781–1536. (Echidna atropos, pp. 1432–1433.)
  • FitzSimons VFM. 1962. Snakes of Southern Africa. Purnell and Sons (S.A.) (Pty.) LTD., Cape Town: Johannesburg. 423 pp.
  • FitzSimons VFM. 1980. A Field Guide to the Snakes of Southern Africa. London: Collins Publishers. 221 pp.
  • Linnaeus C. 1758. Systema naturæ per regna tria naturæ, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, diferentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I. Editio Decima, Reformata. L. Salvius. Stockholm. 824 pp. (Coluber atropos, p. 216.)
  • Bitis atropos at Eco Travel Africa. Accessed 27 October 2011.