Learn why vipers are important to their ecosystem and why we study and protect them
Photo by Eric Centenero Alcalá
Vipers are amazing creatures, and learning from them is inspiring
What are Vipers ?
Vipers are a group of snakes in the family Viperidae that inhabit all continents except Australia and Antarctica, and are found in nearly all terrestrial ecosystems, from deserts to moist tropical forests.
Vipers are venomous snakes and are characterized by a pair of long, hollow fangs attached to bones of the upper jaw that enable them to inject venom into their prey when hunting.
Almost all vipers have keeled scales, vertical pupils, and a triangle-shaped head due to the location of their venom glands behind their eyes. Their pupils’ shape enables them to have a good vision even at night.
Vipers vary widely in size but their body is usually stocky with a short tail compared to other snakes.
Many vipers have colors and patterns that help them blend in with their surroundings and make them difficult to spot by potential predators.
There are 330+ species of vipers in the world !
Vipers are good parents
Vipers are characterized by widespread viviparity which means that vipers give birth to live young unlike most snakes that are oviparous and lay eggs that develop and hatch outside of the mother body. Vipers are also known for their parental care which is not very common among snakes and reptiles in general. Indeed, after giving birth, viper mothers stay with and care for their young, usually until their first shed.
Photo by Luke and Ursula Verburgt
Photo by Marcio Martins
What do vipers eat
When it comes to feeding habits, vipers eat a wide variety of food including centipedes, insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. They hunt using a method called ambush foraging, in which vipers sit and wait immobile to detect prey. They can wait long periods of time for a prey to come without moving because they have relatively low metabolic rates and energy requirements.
Once the prey is detected they strike quickly and inject venom into their prey to secure their capture.
Why are vipers venomous
In the world of wildlife, life can be challenging. And for predators, those species that rely on hunting other animals to survive, it’s even more complicated since their survival depends on their hunt success rate. Where tigers have developed sharp retractable claws, and enlarged teeth or where wolves hunt in packs, some snakes have venom as a way to capture and secure their food while reducing their chance of getting hurt by a prey trying to escape.
Vipers and the other venomous snakes are simply reptiles that have developed a more advanced way to secure their food. Even if the venom makes them potentially dangerous to humans, it doesn’t make them more prone to attack humans.
We can make a difference by changing the trajectory of declines and preventing extinctions of viper species. But to really make an impact, we need to do it together!