The African bush viper also referred to as variable bush viper or the leaf viper is an extremely poisonous snake. Its scientific name is Atheris squamigera. One of its most prominent feature is the keeled scales that cover most of the body, especially the dorsal area on the head. It is jungle greenish or yellow-green on the top surface (though it varies in some habitats and can range from dark green to olive brown or reddish and slate grey), a feature that helps it blend well with its habitat. The colour of the belly ranges from yellow, pale olive to dull olive, and the tail has a visible ivory white tip.The males which measure an average length of 65.7cm are slightly smaller than the females that averagely measure 71.2cm. Their triangular heads are slightly larger than the necks and they hold relatively wide eyes and nasal cavities that lie laterally with partly divided openings.
Inside the mouth cavity are two long and tube-like fangs that source their venom from a gland that is situated in the upper jaw between the mouth and the eyes. The jaws are subsequently connected to a bone that shifts inwardly so that they are hidden within the mouth cavity.
During the reproduction season, a male and a female court and mate. The mating takes place at night. The gestation period is two months and the female produces between 7 and 9 off springs. While the males mature earlier, 24 months after birth, the females are ready to reproduce after 42 months.
The African Bush Viper gives birth to live young ones that are either dark olive, pale olive or yellow olive in colour. Their underbelly is generally olive green in colour. They are venomous from birth and hunt for their own food. They use their distinct ail to lure their prey before attacking it. As they mature, they acquire the colour of the adult sometimes totally different from their original colour.
They are common in Western and Central Africa, extending from Ivory Coast to Ghana, through Nigeria (southern) to the south of Central Africa Republic and Cameroon, DR Congo, Congo, Angola, Uganda, in Rumakina Game Reserve in Tanzania, Western Kenya and Gabon.
They live in tropical forests with an altitude of averagely 100 to 400m above sea level, due to the fact that there are small rodents and other animals of prey that form a major part of their diet. For instance, the species is said to be copious in Takamanda Forest Reserve which experiences two alternate seasons annually; rain from April to November and dry season from December to March. The rainfall ranges from 1500mm to 10 000mm. This means that the snake likes a terrestrial environment that is moist and full of vegetation.
This snake is nocturnal and carnivorous. The bush viper hunts at night. It lies down for a long time waiting for a probable prey or predator, then attacks so fast, the speed is recorded to be in milliseconds. The venom then makes it easy to capture the prey or disarm the predators. Its poison can cause hematological dysfunction and even death of the victim.
The eyes are important tools of communication for the African bush viper. It also makes good use of its perceptible as well as smelling senses. When attacked, it raises the head and anterior part of the body and enlarges itself, a posture for attacking or warding off predators or sexual competitors. If a male wants to attract a female, it can do anything ranging from moving the body in rhythmic motions, rubbing the tail, waving the tail or biting it.
The venom of these snakes is milked and used to make anti-venom for snake bites.