Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance logo
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Library logo

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)

SDZWA Library Links