The Stiletto Snake (Atractaspis bibronii), also known by many other names: Burrowing adder, Southern stiletto snake, Bibron’s stiletto snake, Side-stabbing snake, Bibron’s burrowing asp, Bibron’s mole viper, and mole adder. It is a venomous snake in the family Atractaspididae. It is endemic to Africa.

The specific epithet, bibronii, is in honour of French herpetologist Gabriel Bibron.

Statistically this snake has a high bite rate, coming in 3rd place after the Mozambique Spitting Cobras and Puff Adder.


Stiletto Snake Distribution MapIn South Africa this snake is found over much of the north-eastern parts of the country: Northern Free State, the eastern-half of Kwazulu-Natal,  the far-eastern parts of the Eastern Cape, and found over most of the old Transvaal provinces (Mpumulanga, Gauteng, North West Province and Limpopo).

Elsewhere in Africa the Stiletto Snake is found in Swaziland, Namibia, Angola, Kenya, Botswana, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Zanzibar and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


The Stiletto Snake adults average 30–40 cm in total length (including tail), rarely exceeding 60cm.

The body color is dark brown to black in color. The belly is same color as the body (black, dark brown), or may be uniform white (with or without dark blotches) in the northern parts of its distribution. In specimens with a lighter belly coloration, the white often extends up the lower sides – coloring two or three scale rows on the lower flanks (sides), which is clearly visible.

It is a relatively slender snake with a pointed snout, small beady eyes, and a short stubby tail which ends abruptly in a spike. A plain-looking snake often mistaken for a harmless snake and picked up by the hand, resulting in painful bites.


The snake is relatively fast-moving and not aggressive, but will bite if restrained. When restrained or cornered, it arches its neck into an inverted U-shape, pointing its nose at the ground, in an attempt to escape into the soil, or intimidate its attacker. It may also release a foul-smelling substance from its cloaca. If further disturbed, the snake may coil its body tightly, twist and turn, thrash about, turn its head and neck upside down, and lash its tail from side to side or jerk violently. It is not safe to handle this snake by hand.


Two hollow, well-developed, and comparatively large fangs in relation to head-size, borne on each maxillary bone. Without opening mouth, it uses a single fang, in a lateral stabbing motion, to envenom prey encountered in underground tunnels. The fangs can easily stab fingers if the snake is held behind the head.

Habits and Habitat:

The Southern stiletto snake is found in a variety of habitats, including savanna, woodland, and forest.

It is a burrowing snake, and although it is common, it is rarely seen above ground. It is nocturnal and more active after rains. It may enter buildings or fall into swimming pools.

It feeds on small mammals, lizards, and frogs.

The snake reproduces by laying eggs.


The venom of this snake is highly cytotoxic, causing severe pain, swelling, blistering, and tissue death (necrosis) at the bite site. It is not considered deadly. Bites typically occur on the digits of the extremities, and about 25% of victims require amputation of the affected digit. Many bites are reported each year, often as a result of the snake being stepped on in the dark, or picked up by curios people. There is no antivenom available and current anti-venoms are not recommended.

First Aid:

If you are bitten by a Southern stiletto snake, keep calm, remove jewellery from the bitten hand, or sock and shoe from a bitten leg or foot. It is important to seek medical attention immediately. Do not attempt to suck out the venom or apply a tourniquet. Do not accept or use anti-venom as it may be dangerous.