Vipers are venomous snakes, and to many, they’re some of the scariest creatures on the planet.
They’re characterized by their fangs, which act like hypodermic needles and allow venom injection.
In this article, we’ll be comparing the sixteen types of vipers found around the world:
- Fea’s Vipers
- White-headed Fea Vipers
- Snouted Night Adders
- Lichtenstein’s Night Adders
- West African Night Adders
- Lined Night Adders
- Crossed Pit Vipers
- Velvet Pit Vipers
- Southern American Bushmasters
- Hump-nosed Vipers
- Sumatran Pit Vipers
- Salazar’s Pit Viper
- Russell’s Vipers
- Common European Adders
- Horned Vipers
*Note: Vipers are ranked in no particular order.
1. Fea’s Vipers
Scientific name: Azemiops feae
Fea’s vipers are one of the two species of the Azemiops genus, endemic to Asia. While the population of these snakes is not at risk, they’re secretive and very rarely seen, so very little is known about them.
They’re found in parts of South and Central China, and even parts of Myanmar and Vietnam. There, they live in open areas and forests, rarely wandering into human habitat.
These types of vipers in China aren’t large, with the largest specimens growing up to 30 inches in length. They’re recognizable by their black body with a few cream bands, while the head is entirely cream-colored.
2. White-headed Fea Vipers
Scientific name: Azemiops kharini
These two snakes are the only members of the Azemiops genus, and the only noticeable difference between the two is the coloration of the head. White-headed Fea vipers have almost completely white heads, while snakes with darker heads often have white bands across the head.
Just like their cousins, these snakes are extremely well-hidden and they’re seen very rarely. They’re mostly nocturnal and only hunt under the cover of the night. This was demonstrated in laboratory conditions too, as snakes would only feed after dark.
3. Snouted Night Adders
Scientific name: Causus defilippii
Usually found in eastern and southern Africa, snouted night adders are short snakes, rarely growing past 20 inches in length. Their name derives from their very prominent snout, often pointing upwards.
These light brown snakes occur in savannas and forests, usually staying near moist areas, where they hide during the day to cope with the heat. They leave their hideouts during the night to hunt. Snouted night adders feed on frogs and they’re great swimmers.
To intimidate predators, they blow themselves up and hiss aggressively – they can bite quickly and very little is known about their venom. There’s no antivenin, but very few deaths (and bites in general) have been subscribed to these types of vipers in Africa.
4. Lichtenstein’s Night Adders
Scientific name: Causus lichtensteinii
To clear up any confusion – this species does not occur in the country of Lichtenstein or any European country. It was named after Martin Hinrich Lichtenstein, a German herpetologist. It’s found in western, eastern, and central Africa.
These vipers are known to be good swimmers and they’ve spread to islands on lakes. They usually live in forests and swamps, where they feed on small amphibians and mammals. Aside from that, very little is known about their venom or their feeding habits.
5. West African Night Adders
Scientific name: Causus maculatus
Located in western and central Africa, these snakes usually inhabit forests and savannahs, but they can seemingly survive in partly arid areas too. Disregarding its name completely, these adders are active both during the day and the night.
They mostly feed on small frogs, while their venom is weak for humans and usually doesn’t cause anything more than local pain and swelling. They rarely grow larger than 28 inches, and they can be recognized by black patches down the brown back of the snake.
6. Lined Night Adders
Scientific name: Causus bilineatus
Limited to the southern parts of central Africa, this viper usually inhabits forests and swamps where they mostly feed on frogs and toads. They can’t grow past 26 inches in length, and they’re usually brown.
Night adders are mostly terrestrial snakes that stay close to the ground. Because of this, their coloring is usually brown, allowing them to blend in with the ground.
These particular night adders are recognized by two pale stripes that are found alongside the entire body.
Scientific name (genera): Crotalus & Sistrurus
There are 36 species of rattlesnakes, spread from Canada to Argentina. Because of their high venom potency, these snakes are considered extremely dangerous and should be avoided if come across in the wild.
Rattlesnakes are characterized by the rattle on the end of the tail. To warn predators of their presence, rattlesnakes shake their rattle, which emits a characteristic noise.
Despite their dangerous reputation, these types of vipers in the USA aren’t aggressive without provocation and will always rather crawl under a rock than fight. Most bites happen because a person recognizes the snake, but refuses to move out of its way. Luckily, very few people die from rattlesnake bites because antivenin is available.
When it comes to hunting, rattlesnakes have a unique heat-sensing ability. This allows them to hunt during the night, as they don’t need their eyes. They simply sense thermal radiation and they can detect the slightest temperature changes.
We will now see that all pit vipers have heat-sensing abilities, developed to different levels.
8. Crossed Pit Vipers
Scientific name: Bothrops alternatus
Crossed pit vipers are venomous snakes found in South America, which the largest reported (but not confirmed) specimens exceeding 6 feet in length. There’s no single color palette as it differs from one snake to another, but they all have a crossed pattern on their backs.
These types of vipers in South America are found in southern Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and North Argentina. They usually live in forests, marshes, and swamps – wandering into human habitat isn’t uncommon.
Despite the reputation of being absolutely lethal, very few bites are fatal if proper medical treatment is applied on time.
9. Velvet Pit Vipers
Scientific name: Bothrops asper
Velvet pit vipers are regarded as the all-around best pit vipers in every aspect. They have large fangs, which makes envenomation very easy, while they’re long (up to 8 feet) and heavy (up to 13 pounds). They’re usually dark brown with darker triangles on the back.
These snakes are usually found in eastern Mexico and some Central American countries – Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama. These dangerous types of vipers usually inhabit forests.
They’re entirely unpredictable when approached by people – they’ll usually flee, but they can easily turn around and decide to strike. Since they’re very quick moving, it’s imperative to get to a safe distance on time.
Their venom is extremely potent, and death can be avoided if it’s properly treated, it can easily lead to necrosis and amputation.
10. Southern American Bushmasters
Scientific name: Lachesis muta
These snakes are found in South America and on the island of Trinidad. They can grow up to 8 feet in length, making them the longest types of vipers in the western hemisphere. The only longer venomous snakes are king cobras and black mambas.
They’re very well adapted to their environment and they’re almost invisible in forests because of their brown and black coloring. Their venom was once considered weak, but it was found that they’re very stressed in captivity, hence the milked venom isn’t as potent as that of snakes living in the wild.
It is now known that their venom is capable of killing people, with children and the chronically ill being the usual victims.
11. Hump-nosed Vipers
Scientific name: Hypnale hypnale
These vipers are endemic to India and Sri Lanka, and they’re easily recognized by the large hump on top of their snout. They’re often gray and they have black spots on their back.
They’re only found in dense jungles and coffee plantations, where they’re usually active throughout the night and early morning. Similar to rattlesnakes, they vibrate their tail when agitated.
These types of vipers in Sri Lanka are the leading causers of snake bites in the country. Their venom can be fatal for adult humans, but antivenin is available.
12. Sumatran Pit Vipers
Scientific name: Trimeresurus sumatranus
Sumatran pit vipers are an arboreal species of viper and they’ve evolved a distinct green coloring to help them blend in with the environment. Their belly is often yellow.
These types of green vipers are nocturnal animals that live in forests. There, they mostly feed on small animals – frogs, birds, lizards, and small mammals.
Their fangs are very long (longer than 0.4 inches), which allows them to inject a lot of venom in a single bite, making them highly dangerous.
13. Salazar’s Pit Vipers
Scientific name: Trimeresurus salazar
This is a newly discovered type of viper in India. Interestingly, it was named after Salazar Slytherin of the Harry Potter book series. It’s distinctly green with a slightly paler belly.
They’re just under 20 inches in length and their head is characteristically triangular. An arboreal species, these types of vipers in India can be found on trees, which makes them difficult to see. They mostly feed on small animals.
14. Russell’s Vipers
Scientific name: Daboia russelii
This highly venomous snake is one of the most dangerous snakes in all of Asia – they’re found in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. They’re recognized by the smooth patterns of dark patches on the typically brown back.
Because rats follow people, these snakes are often found in rural and urban human habitats, which often leads to bites. They’re not too aggressive but will bite if handled or stepped on.
Their venom is incredibly potent and it can easily cause death. Even if the victim doesn’t die, the bite can cause major health issues.
15. Common European Adders
Scientific name: Vipera berus
There aren’t many venomous snakes in Europe, and Vipera berus are the most widespread and most common types of vipers in Europe. Despite being venomous, they’re not aggressive and their bite is very rarely fatal to people.
They’re found across many different habitats where they mostly feed on small animals – frogs, mice, and birds. These snakes are easily recognizable by their black zig-zag pattern on the back, which is usually light brown.
Some individuals are entirely black, but this is very rare.
16. Horned Vipers
Scientific name: Vipera ammodytes
These snakes are the most dangerous snakes in Europe because of their highly potent venom and their long fangs. They’re easily recognized by a horn on top of their snout, and they’re often seen on tree branches in Southeastern Europe and parts of Turkey.
Luckily, these snakes are not aggressive, and most bites occur after the snake is accidentally stepped on. They’ll usually try to flee if disturbed, but they may bite if a line is crossed.
Vipers are highly dangerous snakes that should definitely be avoided if encountered in the wild. Their venom has evolved through millions of years to become potent enough to kill animals much larger than people, and it is more of a defensive than an offensive tool.
Luckily, most vipers aren’t aggressive unless provoked, and most attacks happen when they’re accidentally stepped on or mishandled in other ways.