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Poisonous animals
Cnidarians (Jellyfish, Corals and Anemones)
Venomous fish
Hymenopterans (Bees, Wasps and Ants)
Sea snakes
Terrestrial snakes
Miscellaneous animals
North America
Mexico and Central America
South America and the West Indies
North Africa, Near and Middle East
Central and Southern Africa
The Far East
Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia
Australia and the Pacific Islands

Biological features of terrestrial snakes

Central and Southern Africa



Description of the most important representatives:


General behaviour
Defensive behaviour
Factors relevant to envenoming

Dispholidus typus and Thelotornis sp.


arboreal, sometimes also found on the ground

Dispholidus in open savanna or scrubland, Thelotornis in rainforests, gallery forests and savanna areas

slender, elongated body; average length around 1.2 m, maximum up to 1.8 m; appearance and colouring of Thelotornis in particular make them difficult to distinguish from tree branches

inflation of the throat region; generally not aggressive

bites rare; after biting, they do not disengage straight away, and it is sometimes necessary to remove them by force; envenoming often the consequence of deliberate handling (snake catchers!)

Naja sp. 


primarily nocturnal



except for desert areas, found everywhere, especially in open habitats; can be found close to human settlements; also in plantations

relatively sturdy body, head wide, but not substantially distinct from the body; length 1.5–2 m or more

raising the first third of the body; neck region is spread out into a flat hood (Fig. 4.57)

dangerous snake often found close to humans; responsible for a large number of bites; also enters houses and is known to have bitten victims during the night

Dendroaspis sp.


primarily arboreal, D. polylepis can also climb but is usually found on the ground

forest and scrubby areas; D. polylepis in bushland and often close to humans

very slender body with a long, narrow head; very fast, agile snakes; length on average 2 m, D. polylepis up to 4 m


when threatened D. polylepis raises its head from the ground, with slightly flattened neck and open mouth, so that the black interior can be seen; from this position it emits a hollow-sounding hissing

among the most dangerous venomous snakes, but accidents are rare compared to other important African snakes

Atractaspis sp.





live underground; surface at night or after heavy rainfall

from tropical forests to desert regions

largest species up to 90 cm, small head

non-aggressive during the day – roll themselves into a ball

"bites" occur in victims walking around at night or while handling these snakes; the venom fangs are projected laterally, with the mouth virtually closed, and the fangs are stabbed into the victim via sidewards movements of the head

Bitis sp.




nocturnal, but often lie sunning themselves during the day



B. arietans widely distributed in savannas and grasslands, B. gabonica and B. nasicornis in mesic forests; other species in desert-like regions

B. arietans, B. gabonica and B. nasicornis have a very stout body that appears small and a large head distinct from the body; the latter 2 species both have conspicuous ornamental markings; length from under 1 m to 1.8 m; other species small, between 20 and 40 cm

loud puffing (thus the name Puff adder); they rarely flee and rely on their markings for camouflage

B. arietans is one of the most common venomous snakes in Africa and responsible for many bites; B. gabonica and B. nasicornis bites are dangerous, but not common; many bites occur when the snakes are accidentally trodden on

Echis sp.




primarily nocturnal, in cooler weather also active during the day



dry regions, such as sand deserts, semi-arid rocky deserts, steppes and savannas, but also in agricultural areas and gardens

small snakes with an average length of 35 cm (max. 80 cm); slender to sturdy body; "side-winders" 

by continuously rubbing the coils of their body together they produce a clear warning sound similar to that made when two pieces of sandpaper are rubbed together; from this position, they dart forwards rapidly and may strike repeatedly

extremely nervous and agitated; rarely flee; although small, they are among the most dangerous snakes of all; in some areas extremely common and responsible for the most snakebites by far