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Mangshan Pit Viper (Protobothrops mangshanensis) Fact Sheet: Taxonomy & History

Mangshan Pit Viper (Protobothrops mangshanensis)

Taxonomy and Nomenclature

  • Common name: Mangshan pit viper; the pit viper from Mt. Mangshan
  • Scientific name: Proto from the Greek for "before" or "early"; bothros from the Greek for "pit" and ops from the Greek for "eye" or "face" (alludes to heat sensitive organs between eye and nostril)
  • Above taxonomy according to Guo et al. (2007) and McDiarmid et al. (1999)
  • This large Asian pit viper was discovered in 1989 and named Trimeresurus mangshanensis by Zhao (1990)
    • Original description based on two juveniles
  • Zhang (1993) later assigned this pit viper to a newly created genus Ermia
    • The name Ermia was invalid because it already described an insect (Gumprecht & Tillack 2004)
  • Zhaoermia became the genus substituted for Ermia (Gumprecht & Tillack 2004).
  • Guo et al. (2007) said this viper should now be considered as the genus Protobothrops (Quijada-Mascareñas and Wüster 2009)

Evolutionary History

  • All snakes and many lizards probably evolved from a single venomous ancestor (Quijada-Mascareñas and Wüster 2009)
  • Earliest snakes lived around 135 million years ago (Early Cretaceous); fossils found in Spain and in Sahara Desert (Gardner & Ciffeli 1999)
  • All advanced snakes evolved during Cenozoic Era (Weinstein et al. 2010) (Pyron et al. 2010) after the demise of dinosaurs 65 million years ago
  • The family Viperidae probably originated earlier than 24 million years ago in Asia (Wüster et al 2008).
  • Oldest fossils in Viperidae family are known from western Europe at least 24 million years ago (Szyndlar & Rage 2002)
  • Pit viper (Crotalinae) fossils are first recognized from Eurasian fossils (Parkinson et al. 2002)
    • Pit vipers evolved specialized venom glands, teeth, muscles and behaviors to defend themselves and to kill their prey (Weinstein et al. 2010)
  • Old world pit vipers made one dispersal event into North America from Asia, then several later invasions into South America (Wüster et al 2002)
    • Initial route into North America probably across the Bering Land Bridge
  • Pit vipers (Crotalinae) are widely distributed today in Southeast Asia and the New World. (Campbell & Brodie 1992)
    • Pit vipers represent about 6% of all snake species (Green 1992)

Cultural History

  • This pit viper may resemble the green dragon totem of Yao people near Mangshan Mountain in Hunan Province, China (China Daily 2011)
  • A statue of the Mangshan pit viper's discoverer stands in front of the Mangshan Museum of Natural History (China Daily 2011)
  • Many advances in modern medicine have resulted from the study of viper venoms


Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Reptilia (Laurenti, 1768) - reptiles

Order: Squamata (Oppel, 1811) - amphibians, lizards, snakes, serpents

Family: Viperidae (Oppel, 1811) - pit vipers, vipers

Genus: Protobothrops

Species: Protobothrops mangshanensis (Zhao, 1990; originally described as Trimeresurus mangshanensis)

Source: Zhou (2012)

Lines and Curves

S-curve of a Mangshan pit viper

The evolutionary origins of pit vipers can be traced to Eurasia.

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

Page Citations

Campbell & Brodie (1992)
Ernst & Zug (1996)
Gardner & Ciffeli (1999)
Gumprecht & Tillack (2004)
Guo et al. (2007)
Orlov et al. (2009)
McDiarmid et al. (1999)
Parkinson et al. (2002)
Quijada-Mascareñas and Wüster (2009)
Szyndlar & Rage (2002)
Weinstein et al. (2010)
Wuster et al. (2008)
Zhang (1993)
Zhao (1990)

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