Image Credit : Jason A Lee
Puff adder is a large extremely venomous snake from Bitis family. The head has a less than triangular shape with a blunt and rounded snout. Still, the head is much wider than the neck.
The color pattern varies geographically in Bitis arietans. The ground-color varies from straw yellow, to light brown, to orange or reddish brown. This is overlaid with a pattern of 18–22 backwardly-directed, dark brown to black bands that extend down the back and tail.
- Scientific name : Bitis arietans
- Distribution : Semi-arid regions of Africa and Arabia
- Average Size : 1.2 m (4 ft)
- Life Span : 15 years or more
- Difficulty : Advanced
Since Bitis arietans are not overly active most of the time, the terrarium does not need to be too big. My pair of adult Namibia (around 0.8 meters (2.6 feet)) specimens live in a 1.0 x 0.5 x 0.5 meters (3.2 x 1.6 x 1.6 feet) terrarium ,while my lake Nakuru animals (1.2-1.3 meters (3.9-4.2 feet)) live in a 1.3 x 1.0 x 0.5 meters (4.2 x 3.2 x 1.6 feet) tank. I recommend bigger enclosure for central African specimens who reach the length of 1.5 meters (5 feet) and more, at least 1.5 x 1.0 x 0.5 meters (5 x 3.2 x 1.5 feet). I use terrariums of woodboard with thick sliding glass for all my venomous reptiles. For the ventilation of the enclosure I create one on the upper backside and one on the wood rib under the sliding glass in the low front.
Hiding places can be plastic caves, flowerpots, stapled stones, wood or cork bark. It’s always a good practice to provide hide spots across the enclosure in order for the snake to thermoregulate and feel safe while doing it.
I use beach wood chippings or peat as both options are easy to clean. It’s recommended to provide a relatively deep substrate of around 0.05-0.1 meters (0.15-0.3 feet) depth. It’s important to keep the substrate dry at all times.
Lighting – Heating
Since Bitis arietans have a large distribution area there is a significant difference in keeping different localities so it’s strongly advised that you are aware of what locality Bitis arietans you are keeping. Specimens from around the equator can be kept with a 12/12 hours lighting schedule all year round while more southern or northern localities do best with 14/10 hours light/dark in summer and vice versa in winter.
Equatorial specimens can easy be kept at ambient temperatures of 28 °C (82°F) during the day and 20-22 °C (68-71 °F) at night while the southern (and northern) populations need a 2-3 month period (winter months) with lower ambient temperatures of 23 °C (73 °F) during the day and around 15-16 °C (59-60 °F) during nighttime. I use a 2-3 week schedule of slowly decreasing and then 2-3 weeks increasing the temps back to normal.
Bitis arietans like to bask so a hot spot with basking lamp of appropriate power should be available. A recommended basking spot temperature is around 35 °C (95 °F).
Since I never witness any of my Bitis arietans soaking (unless during a summer heat wave or a mite infestation) I use a medium sized water dish of around 0.5 L with clean water. I personally use ceramic dishes because they don’t easily tip over and are easy to be cleaned. I clean the water dishes and fill them with clean water twice a week.
As far as spraying goes outside of the shedding cycle I only spray sporadically with water maybe every 2 weeks. During the last part of shedding cycle I would suggest to spray every other day but be careful not to make the substrate wet. I keep my snake room at the humidity level of 50-65%.
I have not had any snake species with less feeding issues than Bitis arietans. Even babies of 2 weeks old 90% will be feeding on live pinky mice without any problems. Be careful not to overfeed your Bitis arietans because they are not a very active species.
I feed babies every 10 days and adults a good size meal every 4 weeks. It’s important to note that smaller localities will grow much larger than normal when fed heavily. Accepted prey is mice, rats and other rodent species. Mos specimens will also take birds and lizards with no hesitation. Its important to note the babies can and will be
cannibalistic, so it’s highly recommended to keep them separated until at least half grown.
This is the tricky part of this otherwise ideal and easy snake species ,making them not a good beginner venomous species. With their stocky build they tend to slip/fall of hooks quite easily. They are quite temperamental snakes and grow to a big chunky size. An agitated or excited adult Bitis arietans will definitely test your snake handling skills with brutal powerful strikes going in any direction even lifting them of the ground sometimes. The decent size fangs and large venom yields with cytotoxic venom can cause tremendous damage if any of their strikes lands on the handler. NEVER tail handle this species.
I spot clean the terrarium when necessary for feces and I completely clean the whole enclosure every 3-4 months. This means taking the substrate out, disinfect the enclosure and the decorations and then add new substrate in.
Make sure to give some extra humidity during the last days before shedding. In 12 years of keeping this species I only once had to remove eye caps from a specimen. Due to their size and nature this is not a fun experience for the handler. Luckily they hardly ever have problems.
Potential Health Problems
When kept properly Bitis arietans is one of the most hardy snake species I know off. In more then a decade of keeping B.arietans I had 3 deaths. A female retaining infertile eggs inside her (this can go unnoticed because bulky size), an other one died after a strike to the head by a cage mate and a juvenile specimen got eaten by a sibling.
It’s highly recommended for every venomous species that you keep or interested to keep to have the bite protocol. Each species has a dedicated bite protocol that includes general information regarding the species, information about their venom and signs and symptoms of envenomation if bitten. It also includes a detailed information about first aid (what to do and what not to do), specific treatment recommendations for medical personnel to provide appropriate care including information about the antivenom or antivenoms required for treatment. Finally it includes a list of people who specialize in snakebites and their contact information so they can be consulted to assist with the care if needed and a list of all the references used for the create the protocol.
The information contained in this care sheet reflect the opinions and methods of the mentioned breeder, based on their expertise and long-established experience.