Albany adder (Bitis albanica)

GenusBitis (1)
SizeMale snout-vent length: up to 281 mm (2)
Female snout-vent length: up to 384 mm (2)

This species has not yet been classified by the IUCN.

The Albany adder is a member of the viper family, a group of highly evolved, venomous snakes (3). Its relatively short, stocky body is grey and boldly patterned with black and white blotches (2). Small tufts of elongated scales protrude from above the eyes and it has long fangs that can be folded against the roof of the mouth when not in use (2) (3). Just above each nostril is a small pouch of inward-folded skin (the supranasal sac) containing many nerve endings (2) (4). Male Albany adders are smaller than females (2). The Albany adder was once considered to be a subspecies of the many-horned adder (Bitis cornuta), but this taxonomy has recently been revised (5).

Endemic to South Africa, where it occurs only in the Algoa Bay area of the Eastern Cape Province (2).

The Albany adder inhabits mesic succulent thicket, (a dense, impenetrable thicket occurring in coastal areas) and bontveld, a mosaic of grassland interspersed with clumps of thicket vegetation (2) (6).

Almost nothing is known about the rare Albany adder. Like other Bitis species, it probably captures its prey by ambushing it (2). Lunging at its unsuspecting victim with an open mouth, the adder stabs the prey with its long fangs, releasing the slow-acting venom (3). The prey may be held in the mouth if it is small, or if it is large, the adder will release the prey, simply wait for the venom to take its course, and then eat its meal at leisure (2). Lizards are the main prey, but large individuals may occasionally take rodents (7). All adders in Africa are viviparous (2), meaning that they give birth to live young. Albany adders give birth to litters of three to seven young (7).

This rare snake may be threatened by habitat destruction (2). The Albany adder’s range lies within a ‘hotspot’ of biodiversity, the Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany hotspot. This area has one of the highest human densities in sub-Saharan Africa and is under threat from a number of activities including cultivation, plantation forestry, urbanization (8), and sand-mining for the cement industry which occurs on the shores and inland of Algoa Bay (9). Only around one-quarter of this hotspot’s original vegetation remains in pristine condition (8), and it is currently thought that the entire range of the Albany adder may lie within a cement mining area (7).

The Albany adder may still occur in at least one protected area, the Addo Elephant National Park (10), but more up to date surveys are needed (7). There are currently no specific conservation measures known to be in place for this little-known snake. The current situation is critical and without action it is likely that this species will become extinct within a decade or so. One problem is that the current taxonomy stating it as a valid species (separate from the many-horned adder) has not filtered through to those who make the decisions (11).

For further information on the Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany biodiversity hotspot see:

Authenticated (13/06/08) by Dr. Tony Phelps, Squamate Ecologist and founder of the Cape Reptile Institute.

  1. UNEP-WCMC (May, 2007)
  2. Branch, B. (1998) Field Guide to Snakes and other Reptiles of Southern Africa. Ralph Curtis Books Publishing, Florida.
  3. Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  4. York, D.S., Silver, T.M. and Smith, A.A. (1998) Innervation of the supranasal sac of the puff adder. The Anatomical Record, 251(2): 221 - 225.
  5. Branch, W.R. (1999) Dwarf adders of the Bitis cornuta-inornata complex (Serpentes: Viperidae) in Southern Africa. Kaupia, 8: 39 - 63.
  6. Algoa Branch of the Botanical Society of South Africa. (2007) Report back on the Grassridge excursion. Newsletter, 2007: 2 - 3.
  7. Phelps, T. (2008) Pers. comm.
  8. Conservation International Biodiversity Hotspots (May, 2008)
  9. South African Coastal Information Centre (May, 2008)
  10. South African National Parks (May, 2008)
  11. Phelps, T. (2008) Old World Vipers. A Natural History of the Azemiopinae and Viperinae. Chimaira, Frankfurt am Main.