Pit Viper : Classification, Characteristics and Facts

Pit viper is a common name used for the species belonging from Viperidea family of snakes. Any snake is scary with or without venom and these vipers not only have venom but, have unique organs known as Pit organs situated between their eyes and nose. These organs help them to see infrared waves. They use these organs to seek and catch their prey by sensing the victim’s body heat even in complete darkness. These pit organs can identify a target only 0.2 degrees centigrade warmer than the background. Not only pit organs, these vipers also have unique muscles too. They use these muscle to contract the fangs inside when not in use and point outside while biting.

Nearly 150 species of pit vipers have been identified throughout the world including America, Russia, India, China, Nepal, Malaysia, Thailand. The Rattlesnake, Cotton mouth and Copperhead are well known pit vipers. An average pit viper grows about 3-5 feet in length but the largest pit viper known as the South American Bushmaster (Lachesis Muta Muta) can grow up-to 12 feet and the Humped nose pit viper (Hypnale Hypnale) is the smallest species growing up-to 30-45 centimeters or a foot long. These snakes are Ovoviviparous, meaning females carry eggs inside their body and give birth of live Young.

Image By Christopher Murray Via Wikipedia

It is shocking that containing most of the venomous creatures, Australia is not the habitat for these vipers.

Worldwide pit viper classification and habitat
Sub-Group Common Name Range or Habitat
Agkistrodon Copperheads, Water moccasins, Cottonmouths North & Central America
Atropoides Jumping pit viper Mexico & Central America
Bothriechis Palm pit viper Mexico, Central & South America
Bothriopsis Forest pit viper Panama & South America
Bothrops Lance heads Mexico & Central America
Calloselasma Malayan pit viper Thailand, Nepal, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia.
Crotalus Rattlesnakes North, Central & South America
Deinagkistrodon Hundred pace viper Southeast Asia
Gloydius Asian moccasins Russia, India, China, Pakistan, Iran, Nepal, Japan, Korea
Hypnale Hump nosed pit viper India, Sri Lanka.
Lachesis Bush masters Central & South America.
Ophryacus Mexican horned pit viper Mexico
Ovophis Mountain pit viper Asia, Nepal, Japan
Porthidium Hognose pit viper North, Central & South America, Mexico
Sistrurus Ground rattlesnakes Canada & South America
Trimeresurus Asian lance heads Japan, China, South Asia.
Tropidolaemus Temple viper China & South Asia
* On above mentioned categories the Trimeresurus or Asian Lance heads are found in India.


Must Read: Amazing Facts, Myths And Information About Rattlesnakes
Nearly 11 species of them had been identified and here are some facts about them.
1. Large scale pit viper (Trimeresurus Macrolepis)
Large scale pit viper
Image By Seshadri.K.S Via Wikipedia

Large scale pit viper is a venomous pit viper species endemic to the Southern parts of India. They prefer hilly forests, tea or coffee plantations even moist grasslands. They have been seen at 2000-7000 feet high in Palakkad, at 6000 feet in Anaimalai hills and at 4000 feet in Palani hills. These species can grow up-to 68 centimeters or 27 inches and their diet consist of small lizards, frogs and rodents. These snakes have hemotoxin venom which is non fatal to humans but, cause pain and swelling for long periods. In recent days their habitat is shrinking due to tourist activities.

2. Malabar pit viper (Trimeresurus Malabaricus)
Malabar Pit viper
Image By L. Shyamal Wynaad Via Wikipedia

These snakes grow up-to 105 centimeters or 41 inches. They can be seen in several colors like Green, Yellow, Brown, Orange found at a height of 2000-6000 feet in Tamilnadu, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra. These species prefer forests and live under rock shelters near streams. They use their prehensile tail to attract and catch prey like lizards and frogs but, they are in diet list of King cobras. Their venom couldn’t kill a human but can cause extreme pain, swelling, severe muscle shiver and effects can last for 2 days.

3. Horseshoe pit viper (Trimeresurus Strigatus)
Image By Gachand Via Wikipedia

As the name suggest their nape shaped like a horse shoe. These snakes can grow up-to 30 centimeters and eat rodents and small snakes. Their habitat range is the maximum from the rest, about 18000 square kilometers in Tamilnadu and Kerala.

4. Bamboo pit viper (Trimeresurus Gramineus)
Bamboo pit viper
Image By Rishi Vairale Via Wikipedia

Bamboo pit viper or Indian Green pit vipers found in Tamilnadu and they grow 75 centimeters or 30 inches in length and are solitary in nature. They live in bamboo groves and seen hibernating inside dead bamboos. Their venom consist hemotoxin which is not studied accurately yet. Although their bite considered as non fatal but, one bite can cause severe pain, muscle fatigue and skin turns black due to high rate of cell death.

5. Humped nose pit viper (Hypnale Hypnale)
humped nose
Image By Vssekm Via Wikipedia

These snakes are very terrestrial and aggressive in nature. They grow up-to 30-45 centimeters or 11-18 inches in length and they are ambush predators. These snakes attract prey like frogs, rodents and small birds using their tail vibration. These vipers like to live in dense forests or thick bush but, can be seen in coffee or cardamom plantation also. These venomous snakes are considered fatal as their bite can cause acute renal failure. Maharashtra, Goa and southern parts of Sri Lanka are places where you can find them.

Also Read: Facts, Information And Photos About King Cobra
6. Andaman pit viper (Trimeresurus Andersoni)
Image By Arshad Khan Via Wikipedia

As their name suggest, they can be found in the islands of Andaman and Nicobar. These snakes are nocturnal, terrestrial predators and can be seen in three major colors like Reddish Brown, Dark Brown and black. The Black Andaman pit vipers are very aggressive and many cases of human bites are documented. They mostly stay on forest floors or low bushes.

7. Medo pit viper(Trimeresurus Medoensis)
Image By Rohit Naniwadekar Via Wikipedia

These snakes can be found in India, China and Myanmar. They prefer to live in bamboo groves or wet forest. In habitat areas these 67 centimeters or 26 inches long snakes can be seen hanging on tree branches as they are tree dwellers. This species is non fatal to humans but their bite is not painless.

8. Pope’s pit viper (Trimeresurus Popeiorum)
Image By Rushenb Via Wikipedia

They can be found in the moist mountain forests and swamp areas of India, Myanmar, Malaysia and Thailand. These snakes are also nocturnal and tree dwellers. They can be 77 centimeters or 30 inches in length and their neurotoxin venom is extremely dangerous and considered fatal for humans.

Also Read: Interesting Information And Unknown Facts About Anaconda
9. Salazar’s pit viper (Trimeresurus Salazar)
Image By Zeeshan Mirza and Harshal Bhosle Via Telegraph

These green pit vipers are 35-40 centimeters long and can be seen in Himalayan bio-diverse areas and north east of Arunachal Pradesh. As these snakes are very shy and difficult to find, there are very little facts known about them but, their bite is non fatal yet extremely painful even after medication.

10. Himalayan pit viper (Gloydius Himalayanus)
Himalayan Pit Viper
Image By Rafaqat Masroor Via CalPhotos

These snakes’ habitat ranges from the lower slopes of Himalaya to Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal, Uttarakhand and West Bengal. They live near streams and take shelter under rocks or big tree logs. They can grow up-to 2.5-3 feet in length. It is a very slow moving snake and generally feed on Millipedes and Centipedes. Their bite causes high muscle pain, suffocation, blurred vision and effects last for 2-3 days.

11. Red tailed pit viper (Trimeresurus Erythrurus)
Image By Vijay Anand Ismavel via iNaturalist

These snake species can be found in wet forests of Assam, Sikkim, Sunderbans, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Tripura. They can grow up-to 57 centimeters or 22 inches and feed on small insects, lizards. Their venom not been studied well but they are not so harmful to humans.

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