What is a Bush Viper?

Bush vipers are the common term for a group of small venomous snakes belonging to the genus Atheris. They are endemic to the forested sub-Saharan regions of Africa. These creatures are known for their distinct appearance and their potent venom. These snakes belong to the Viper family. There are ten currently recognized species of bush snakes.


Bush vipers are small snakes ranging in length from 16 in to 2 and a half feet. All members of the genus Atheris have a distinct triangular head that is attached to a slender neck. Bush snakes have a broad, blunt snout and a distinct canthus. The bush snake has a very distinct body that is slightly flattened. Its powerful tail and rough scales allow it to grip and hang from tree branches then launch itself into unsuspecting prey. They may come in a wide range of various colors and color patterns from pure light green to mottled brown and yellow. Females are generally larger than the males.

Ecology and Distribution

Bush vipers are arboreal or tree-dwelling. The fragmented rainforest system of the sub-Saharan region has created an environment of genetic isolation which has given rise to unique species of bush snake. These snakes are commonly found in primary and secondary rain forest habitats and rarely in human-influenced areas. Various species of Bush Viper can be found in Congo, Tanzania, Zaire, Kenya and Cameroon as well as in surrounding areas. Due to their broad habitat and their ecological isolation, different species of bush viper may occupy different niches and can be found at a wide range of altitudes and environmental conditions. There are even cases of different species stratifying or living in different altitudes within a single area. Bush vipers mainly feed on small nocturnal animals found in the rain forest like frogs, lizards, shrews, rodents and birds. Prey is usually ambushed and held until these snakes' potent venom takes effect. Females are ovoviparous, which means that they keep the young in eggs found within their body and only release them once they are developed. Mating is usually done after the African winter during the months of September and November and the young are birthed around April and March. The remote habitat of these reptiles makes maintaining accurate population counts difficult though the dwindling forest area of the region can only have an adverse effect on their overall numbers.


The venom of the bush viper is unique in that it prevents the victim's blood from clogging the puncture wound. This hemotoxic effect also damages nearby tissues and are extremely potent against small birds, mammals and reptiles that is these snakes' preferred prey. There is a single known human fatality due to Atheris venom. There is no specific antivenin for species in this genus.


As a tree-dwelling group, Atheris species need climbing structures in their pen. They may also require small, tight spaces where they can crawl or hide into. They acclimate surprisingly well in captivity though different species may need varying temperature, moisture and feeding requirements.