Butterfly Viper Bitis nasicornis

Butterfly Viper Bitis nasicornis

Butterfly Viper Bitis nasicornis


Extant (resident)

Angola; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Congo; The Democratic Republic of Congo; Côte d’Ivoire; Equatorial Guinea; Gabon; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Kenya; Liberia; Nigeria; Rwanda; Sierra Leone; South Sudan; Tanzania, United Republic of Togo; Uganda.

Presence Uncertain


Although they possess one of the most potent venoms of all snakes in Africa, Butterfly Vipers are surprisingly placid and won’t attack unless provoked or threatened. They are known by several common names: Rhinoceros viper, River Jack, the Rhinoceros horned viper and the Horned puff adder. They are appreciated for their vividly coloured markings that keep them camouflaged on the forest floor.

The Butterfly #viper is a stunning #snake in #Africa threatened by #deforestation. Raise your voice for beautiful #African #vipers by saying no to #palmoil #deforestation #Boycottpalmoil #Boycott4Wildlife

Butterfly Viper Bitis nasicornis

The forest is highly fragmented and not well-protected in Rwanda, where Butterfly vipers live and are likely to be at risk from deforestation. This species has declined significantly in a protected area (Reading et al. 2010), which could be due to exploitation or another unknown threat.


Appearance & Behaviour

The stunning dragon-like viper species Bitis nasicornis has prominent nasal ‘horns’ and striking colour patterns consist of 15-18 blue or green markings along with a bright yellow line down the centre. Dark crimson triangles adorn their flanks and are bordered with vibrant green or blue. Female vipers grow larger than males and can reach 110 cm in length.

Butterfly Viper Bitis nasicornis - Africa

They are primarily nocturnal and solitary and although venomous, they are generally placid in nature. They dwell in the dappled sunlight of the forest floor, which provides excellent camouflage. Although ground-dwelling, they have a prehensile tail which enables them to climb trees and thickets.

Powerful swimmers, they often hunt by ambush by waiting silently and motionless until the right moment to strike. Rhinoceros vipers have a loud hiss that sounds like a shriek – this is said to be the loudest hiss of any African snake.


The Rhinoceros viper faces many threats, these include:

  • Collection for the international pet trade.
  • Human persecution and poaching for human consumption.
  • Deforestation for palm oil, coffee and cocoa agriculture.
  • Deforestation for mining.
  • Pollution run off from agriculture.


The Butterfly viper’s venom is particularly potent and only a small dose is enough to be deadly. The venom is both neurotoxic and hemotoxic meaning that it destroys tissue, blood vessels and adversely affects the nervous system of the victim. The fangs are hollow and when in use they deeply penetrate the skin of the victim with venom flowing into the wound. When not in use, the viper’s fangs fold into the roof of their mouth.

Their geographic range makes them isolated and therefore few human bites are officially recorded. Reported symptoms post bite include massive swelling and skin necrosis. In America, one instance of a pet Butterfly viper biting his own led to the owner’s death.


Butterfly vipers are found all over the tropical equatorial countries of Africa in West Africa and central Africa and western Kenya. Their habitat range has been enormously reduced by deforestation for agriculture including palm oil, cocoa and coffee, as well as mining and the associated pollution run-off this causes.


They are carnivores and feed opportunistically on small mammals, reptiles and fish by laying in wait and then attacking with a sudden unexpected strike. They have been known to consume rodents, toads, frogs and fish.

Butterfly Viper Bitis nasicornis - Africa

Mating and breeding

In West Africa they give birth during the during the rainy monsoon season of March-April. In eastern African nations they breed throughout the entire year. They give birth to live young and produce around 6 to 38 snake neonates.

The Rhinoceros viper/Butterfly viper has no formal protections in place.

The #Boycott4Wildlife offers a way for consumers to fight back against palm oil deforestation and other forms of animal cruelty and slavery. If you wish to raise your voice for Butterfly Vipers, join the #Boycott4Wildlife.

You can support this beautiful animal

There are no known formal conservation activities in place for this animal. Make sure that you #Boycottpalmoil and #Boycott4Wildlife in the supermarket and raise awareness of the plight of this beautiful animal in order to support their survival! Find out more here

Further Information

Penner, J., Rödel, M.-O., Luiselli, L., Trape, J.-F., Spawls, S., Malonza, P.K., Beraduccii, J., Chippaux, J.-P., LeBreton, M., Kusamba, C. & Gonwouo, N.L. 2021. Bitis nasicornisThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2021: e.T13300910A13300919. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2021-3.RLTS.T13300910A13300919.en. Accessed on 12 September 2022.

Bitis Nasicornis on Wikipedia

Butterfly Viper on Animalia.bio

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Published by Palm Oil Detectives

Hi, I’m Palm Oil Detective’s Editor in Chief. Palm Oil Detectives is partly a consumer website about palm oil in products and partly an online community for writers, scientists, conservationists, artists and musicians to showcase their work and express their love for endangered species. I have a strong voice for creatures great and small threatened by deforestation. With our collective power we can shift the greed of the retail and industrial agriculture sectors and through strong campaigning we can stop them cutting down forests. Be bold! Be courageous! Join the #Boycott4Wildlife and stand up for the animals with your supermarket choices

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