A newborn cobra is poisonous

Puff adders, responsible for most of the venomous snake bites in southern Africa

With the exception of the dunes in the Namib, puff adders can be found almost everywhere in Namibia. This very well camouflaged snake comes in different color variations, from dark gray to reddish to yellowish - but always with the same characteristic pattern. It moves slowly, is most active at night and hides during the day in thick grass, under bushes, in holes or any other shelter on the ground. In the morning she likes to lie next to tufts of grass, rocks or bushes in the sun and in the early evening she often warms herself on the tar road, especially at the beginning of winter.

When wandering through the bush, one should never step over a fallen log, but step on it first; because in the shade on the other side there could be a puff adder. If it is roused, it usually responds as a warning with hissing and puffing noises. Then it is advisable to keep quiet immediately and to withdraw very slowly. This calms the snake down and makes it clear that there is no danger. But when she is harassed or frightened, she pulls her head back so that she looks S-shaped and attacks with incredible speed. When attacking, the puff adder is Bitis arietans, one of the fastest snakes.

Puff adders cannot retreat backwards, but like most snakes they are good swimmers. Their fangs are up to 18 millimeters long. Every snake has several spare teeth on either side, as without its poisonous teeth it could neither feed nor defend itself.

Usually puff adders move forward in a straight line, but when disturbed or threatened they make away by snaking quickly. You cannot bite the tip of your tail to roll quickly down a slope. Puff adders eat rats, mice and other small mammals, birds living on the ground, as well as lizards, toads and sometimes other snakes. They themselves often fall victim to cobras: the anchietas cobra and the cape cobra. Their greatest enemy, however, is humans, followed by birds of prey.

The poison of the puff adder is cytotoxic, which means that it destroys tissue and blood cells. Symptoms include extreme pain, swelling, and sometimes blisters at the bite site. Most of the time the snake bites below the knee because you can't recognize it because of its good camouflage and you get too close to it. You have to see a doctor as soon as possible. An antidote is usually required.

Puff adders are viviparous, which means that they give birth to live young - 20 to 40 at a time. Immediately after birth, the young break free from their embryonic shell, moult for the first time as soon as they are dry, and go on their way. They are poisonous from birth. The mother does not care for her brood. During the mating season, females produce a pheromone that attracts males. Often times, multiple males follow a single female.

There is no reason to kill a puff adder. This snake can be easily caught with a broom and a bucket or box, but it must be carefully guided into the box or bucket. If a puff adder is injured (e.g. broken ribs) from rough handling, it becomes dangerous if released. Aching injuries will cause them to attack faster. When you are released, you always have to choose a suitable location in the great outdoors.

Dirk Heinrich