What is a Rhinoceros Viper?

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  • Written By: Elle Jay
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2019
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The rhinoceros viper is a venomous African snake native to countries in the central and western part of the continent. This viper is classified as one of the most dangerous types of snakes because even a small dose of its venom can be deadly. Also known as a river jack, this colorful snake dwells in tropical wetlands and lush forests.

Many snake lovers name the rhinoceros viper, or Bitis nasicomis, as the most attractive of all snakes, likely due to its bright colors and intricate patterns. The geometric shapes on the rhino viper’s body feature blue, yellow, red, and green coloring, and the triangle-shaped head sports a distinct black arrowhead design. The arrow points to the snake’s most distinguishing feature: rows of horns protruding from just above each nostril. Most river jacks have two or three sets of horns varying in length, with the longest measuring 1 inch (2.5 cm) long or less.

This large snake features a chubby body and smallish head. Average size for the rhinoceros viper ranges from 2 to 3 feet long (60 to 90 cm). Some say the longest river jack measured approximately 7 feet (2 m) long, but that is not typical. As one of three different species of puff adders, the rhino viper can puff its body up when threatened or agitated, making it appear up to twice its actual size.


A rhinoceros viper’s fangs fold up into its mouth, and they do not automatically appear when the mouth opens. This particular snake controls its fangs' movements and uses them deliberately. The fangs are for hunting, and rarely inflict their pain on humans. This is not an aggressive snake, but attacks are lightning fast when they occur. Although a slow mover on the ground, the rhinoceros viper strikes rapidly and can cover a distance of more than 1 foot (30 cm) when attacking.

During an attack, this snake emits a loud, bark-like hiss before plunging 1.5-inch (2.5 cm) fangs into its victim, dispensing small doses of venom. The rhinoceros viper injects mostly hemotoxic venom, which focuses on the circulatory system. Although not considered extremely deadly, a river jack bite may destroy blood vessels and body tissues and can cause internal bleeding and damage.

The brilliant coloring of the rhinoceros viper provides efficient camouflage in the snake’s natural habitat along forest floors and lush wetlands. True to its watery nickname, the river jack is an efficient swimmer and even eats fish from time to time, although small mammals are the typical food choice. This snake is also an efficient climber, using its tail for upward movement.


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Post 2

These are very colorful snakes. I'm not a snake fan, but I know a guy who used to keep "hot" snakes and he got ahold of one of these somewhere -- never would tell me. Not that I really wanted to know.

I wouldn't go in his house while he had the snakes, but he used to tell me about how quickly they could strike, in spite of being really heavy-bodied, and how they could cover some real estate in record time, if they were motivated to run.

He said they weren't very aggressive, especially for "hots," but I still wouldn't go in the house until they were all gone. I didn't want to take any chances. He was a responsible keeper, but I had no interest in seeing his charges.

Post 1

Several years ago, the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga had an exhibit called "Venom," where they displayed many venomous animals. Among them were a pair of rhinoceros vipers. The keepers thought they had two males, but they were actually a male and a female. Imagine their surprise when they checked the enclosure and saw something like two dozen baby rhino vipers scuttling around in the substrate! The snakes were on loan from a zoo, and the zoo said they thought they had sent two of the same sex. Oh, well. The zoo did take on the job of finding homes for the surviving neonates. Mom and dad ate a couple of them.

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