The puffadder is a relatively short, subby snake with an average length of 90 - 100 cm. It is usually found on the ground and it may hiss or puff when disturbed. It has a flat triangular head, vertical pupils and a yellow to white stripe between the eyes.
The colouring of the back is extremely variable, ranging from bright to dull yellow, light brown or grey with distinct black, backwards pointing chevrons on the back and dark bands on the tail. A bright to dull yellowish stripe between of slightly behind the eyes. It has two dark blotches: on the crown of the head and above the snout. Ont he head there are two dark oblique band, one below the eye, and one from behind the eye to the back of the jaw and head.
Its underside is yellow to grey, with dark blotches.
Ususally found on the ground, basking in the sun, rarely found in trees. This snake relies on camouflage to avoid threats and will remain still, even when approached. When threatened it may hiss and puff, drawing its head back quickly into striking position, if further harrased, it may drop its head which indicates that it is ready to strike.
It is mainly active at night, but it also likes to bask in the sun and it can swim.
Throughout southern Africa.
It can live in a variety of habitats including savanna, grassland, desert, thicket and fynbos.
The puffadder feeds on small mammals like rats and mice, but it also eats birds, lizards, frogs and occasionally other snakes.
It ambushes its prey and is very patient, sometimes lying up several days, waiting for prey to pass by. After a catch it may hold on to its prey, but because rodents can bite back, its often will release rodents after the first poisenous bite, and then follow by scent, its tongue flicking. Usually prey is swallowed head first.
After mating a female will give birth to 20 - 40 young in late summer. The young are 15 - 20 cm long and look exactly like the adults.
Receptive females produce a feremone to attract males. More than one male may be lured to a single female. During the mating season males will fight, twisting around eacht other, trying to wrestle their opponent to the ground.
Danger to man
In general the puffadder is reluctant to bite, as it uses camouflage and concealment to avoind danger. However it has long fangs (up to 18 mm) and a potent venom.
The puffader causes the second most serious snake bites in southern Africa. Because its poison is a relatively slow-acting venom ,relatively few bites turn out to be fatal, because a victim is given some time to get to a hospital to be treated.
Puffadder venom is a cytotoxic venom with a degree of haemotoxicity.