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Mangshan Pit Viper (Protobothrops mangshanensis) Fact Sheet: Physical Characteristics

Mangshan Pit Viper (Protobothrops mangshanensis)

Physical Characteristics

Body measurements

Attribute Measurement
Weight 3-5 kg (7-10 lb), or more, for an adult
Length Up to 203 cm (up to 6.66 ft)

General Appearance

  • An enormous, grass-green to yellow-green pit viper marked with large brown blotches along the back and irregular brown side blotches
  • Last 10 cm (4 in) of the tail is white
  • Head large, triangular
  • Eyes green
  • Snakes in the Viperidae family typically have (Pough & Groves 1983):
    • Stout bodies
    • Large heads
    • Fangs on upper jaws (maxillae) that rotate to inject venom
  • All pit vipers have a tiny depression of infrared-sensitive tissue (pit-organ) between the eye and nostril, on each side of the head (Zug 1993)
    • Allows the snake to sense heat emitted by potential prey or predators

Sexual Dimorphism

  • Males have slightly longer tails (email to author, Boyer 2010)
  • Females slightly more robust and heavier (Gumprecht et al 2002)

Other Physical and Physiological Characteristics

  • Large, tube-like fangs 2 cm (.8 in) long(Chen 1990)
    • In pit vipers, length of fangs related to overall snout/vent length (longer snakes have longer fangs) (Pough and Groves 1983)
    • Fangs are the only teeth; replacement fangs lie behind functional fangs (Zug 1993)
  • Venom of Mangshan pit viper (Mebs et al. 2006):
    • Large amount can be injected from one fang - 960 mg (0.03 oz)
    • Toxins have high coagulant (clotting) and hemorrhagic (bleeding) capacity in human and bovines
    • Myotoxins may cause muscle damage, swelling
    • Venom very similar to that in other members of Protobothrops
    • No specific antivenom developed yet
    • Degrades in sunlight (Pough et al. 1978)
      • Protective melanin accumulates in scales around venom glands to prevent damage to venom
  • Pit viper adaptations for guiding a strike (Hayes et al. 2002):
    • Eyes
    • Temperature-sensitive facial (loreal) pits; true vipers lack these pits
    • Tactile receptors in mouth and jaws

Sunscreen for its Venom

Mangshan pit viper scales

Body scales of a Mangshan pit viper.

Protective melanin pigment accumulates in scales around the snake's venom glands. This prevents the venom from degrading in sunlight.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Boyer (2010)
Chen (1990), translated in David & Tong (1997)
Daltry et al. (1996)
Daltry et al. (1997)
Gumprecht et al. (2002)
Hayes et al. (2002)
Mebs et al. (2006)
Pough et al. (1978)
Pough & Groves (1983)
Zug (1993)

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