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Mangshan Pit Viper (Protobothrops mangshanensis) Fact Sheet: Diet & Feeding

Mangshan Pit Viper (Protobothrops mangshanensis)


  • Eat insects, mammals, frogs
  • Consume 2 adult rats every two weeks in managed care (Gumprecht et al 2002)
    • Strike rat mid body
    • Lift rat off the ground until limp
    • Eat rat head first
  • Drink water (Gumprecht et al 2002)


  • Terrestrial ambush predators (Green 1999)
    • Wait in ambush along trails used by mammals, especially rodents
    • May use chemoreceptors to detect suitable places to wait for prey.
    • Bushmasters in central and South America are similar ambush predators
  • Many species of pit vipers use white or light colored tail-tips to actively attract potential prey (Heatwole & Davison 1976)
    • Most often this behavior only found in juveniles (Green 1999)
    • Feeding behavior in wild has not been reported in Mangshan pit vipers, but they do have white tipped tails, even as adults
  • In a study of venom composition and dietary choices for some pit vipers (Daltry et al. 1996):
    • Venom chemistry is genetically controlled
    • Geographic variation in venoms reflects "natural selection for feeding on local prey"
    • Small, isolated populations, however, may not be influenced by this venom-diet association (Daltry et al. 1997
  • Viperids use a strike and release strategy for hunting (Hayes et al. 2002)
    • Tounge-flicking search behavior (using chemo receptors) is used to track prey after a strike (O'Connell et al 1982)
    • Even viperids born in managed care (that haven't faced live prey) exhibit this tongue-flicking behavior (O'Connell et al 1982)
  • Long fangs allow toxins to penetrate deeply into prey (Pough & Groves 1983) (Daltry et al. 1997)
    • Toxins kill prey and also help snake digest prey
    • Toxins cause breakdown of proteins in muscles and organs
    • Venom toxins needed for digestion because prey consumed is relatively large

Two Senses for "Seeing"

Head of a Mangshan pit viper

The infrared-sensitive facial organs of pit vipers help them detect body heat of mammal prey.

Can you find the pit organ? Hint: Look between the snake's eye and its nostril.

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

Page Citations

Chen (1990), translated in David & Tong (1997)
Daltry et al. (1997)
Green (1999)
Gumprecht et al. (2002)
Hayes et al. (2002)
O'Connell et al. (1982)
Pough & Groves (1983)

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