Short, fat. Adults 900 – 1 200 mm, up to 1 600 mm in Southern Africa. Head triangular in shape, broad and very distinct from neck; covered with small, keeled scales. Eye round; pupil vertically elliptical; iris golden-grey to silvery-grey. Colour light- to dark-brown to black, with yellow or cream chevrons down the back. Tail with light-coloured, transverse bands. Below, light-cream or yellow; plain, or more often, with black blotches on the flanks. Strongly-keeled dorsal scales in 29 – 41 rows at mid-body (smooth or feebly-keeled in outermost row adjacent to ventral scales); anal entire.
Hinged front fangs, 15 – 18 mm long in adults.
Slow-acting, mainly cytotoxic venom that digests body tissue, causing pain, swelling and superficial- to deep tissue damage at the bite-site. Swelling may progress from an extremity into the trunk of body. Death, caused by hypovolaemic shock from loss of fluids from the circulation, usually occurs 24 hours later in full bites. Adult lethal dose: 100 mg; yield: 80 – 240 mg, average 120 mg. About 5 % of bites can be fatal if not treated properly. Bleeding and kidney complications may occur. Polyvalent anti-venom is available.
Fynbos, grassland and savannas. Avoids forests, true deserts and mountain tops.
Nocturnal, ambush predator. Emerges during the day to bask. Terrestrial, but often found off the ground, low down in woody vegetation. Remains motionless when approached, relying on cryptic colouration to avoid detection. Accounts for many snakebites in southern Africa. Often killed on roads just after austral spring rains when it emerges to start foraging. Prey on rodents, birds, frogs, toads and lizards. Found around human habitation foraging for prey. The name ‘Puff Adder’ stems from habit of inhaling air and expelling it forcefully through nostrils, producing a loud hiss when agitated. If this warning is not heeded, will strike out to bite. Preyed upon by mongooses, honey badgers, birds of prey, warthog, and other snakes.
Reproduces by giving birth to fully-developed young. Mating: October – December; birth: December – April in southern Africa.