Species Saturday

Species Saturday #21: The deadly pit viper

While out walking in the forest the other day a few of the volunteers found one of the star species we have here at Sabangau. Here’s a brilliant photo By Mel, one of the volunteers. She must have a fairly good lens on her camera since you don’t want to get too close to these beautiful but potentially deadly snakes.
                                                    Photo by Mel Bo, OuTrop volunteer, 2013
This vibrant green serpent with a triangular head is one of the most visually striking species we have here at Sabangau.
The Wagler’s pit viper (Tropidolaemus wagleri) is one of two pit viper species we come across in the forest – the Sumatran pit viper (Trimesurus sumatranus) also hangs out here.
These two species’ names come not from the fact that they live in pits, but from the heat-sensitive pits in their cheeks. Heat sensitivity is a feature allows pit vipers to detect their prey. In Wagler’s pit viper this sensitivity is acute enough to detect changes of 0.3 degrees celcius in the air temperature.
These snakes are largely nocturnal and hunt creatures low down in the branches. Both species tend to feed on reptiles and amphibians, birds and small mammals. During the day they tend to sleep, sometimes coiled high up in trees. They can be very docile during daylight hours, so much so that you can walk right up to one without realizing, or indeed without the snake realising!
Female Wagler’s pit vipers may reach 1m and Sumatran pit vipers can reach up to 1.6m. The pit viper is also one of the two species of snake that can be fatal (the other one being the King cobra). We sometimes see pit vipers around camp, so I’m hoping I don’t bump into one any time soon in the bathrooms!