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Beautiful and cryptic: the Mangshan mountain pit viper

Hello everyone! I would like to tell you a little bit about one of my favorite pit vipers of all-time, the Mangshan mountain pit viper! This nocturnal snake species is only found in the mountainous regions of Hunan and Guangdong in southern China. The elevations are 2,620–4,270 feet. So high! They can be found in the subtropical forests of these mountains within the thick vegetation along the forest floor or even in limestone caves.

The Mangshan mountain vipers, also known as Chinese mountain vipers or Mangshan iron-head snakes, are layered in intricate camouflaging patterns ranging in various shades of green and brown. They are known for being very shy and reclusive, with their unique color patterns helping them blend in incredibly well with their background. You may not see them even when they are sitting right in front of your nose! This cryptic camouflage allows them to hide in that thick vegetation and wait for their prey to come to them. Because they are pit vipers, Mangshan vipers have pits between their eyes and mouths that we can see, but they are not just for show! These pits are the external opening to an extremely sensitive infrared detecting organ connected to the snake’s optic nerve, essentially allowing them to see heat and strike prey accurately, even in the dark. That gives them a huge advantage as they prefer to move around and hunt at night. They prey on animals like frogs, birds, insects, and small mammals. The venom from a Mangshan viper causes blood-clotting and corrodes muscle tissue. This helps aid in the digestion of their freshly caught meal. Yummy in the tummy!

Despite their shy nature, these beautiful snakes can grow very large. Mangshan vipers have been known to easily grow to around 6 feet in length and weigh over 10 pounds, making for a very hefty snake! Most pit vipers are viviparous. This means the females give live birth. However, the Mangshan mountain pit viper is one of the few vipers in the entire world to be oviparous, which means they lay eggs. Females can lay 13–21 eggs at a time and are known to guard the nest diligently until the babies hatch. The bushmaster, another large pit viper from South America, also lays eggs that are guarded by the female. This similarity and others have earned this snake one of its other sometimes-used names: Chinese bushmaster. How can one snake end up with so many names?!

Thanks so much for your time! I hope you enjoyed learning a few fun facts about these shy and beautiful snakes! Be sure to stop by Scaly Slimy Spectacular on your next visit. If you look very carefully, you should be able to spot the Mangshan mountain pit vipers in their habitat.

Sam J.
Keeper III, Herpetology

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