How’s this for lethality? An African snake noted for its potent venom, aggressive behavior and ability to ambush its prey, also has the benefit of being able to camouflage its scent.
The puff adder, found from the Arabian Peninsula all the way across the continent to Gambia and Senegal, and down to the Cape of Good Hope, is capable of masking it sent from would-be predators, according to a new study in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
“One of the reasons the snake so effective is that the animal has no observable scent, a team of researchers from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa have discovered,” according to the website Red Orbit. “The study team said the snake uses a type of olfactory camouflage referred to as ‘chemical crypsis.’”
Scientists in the study trained both dogs and meerkats to identify the scent of various snakes. Both animals could differentiate between cloths that smelled like snakes and those that didn’t. The meerkats had been only exposed to brown snakes and puff adders – since those two snakes are the only ones that live in their habitat in the wild.
The two animals were actually equally incapable of selecting the scent of the puff adder.
The puff adder is a fairly thick snake that sits still and watches for prey, which includes mammals, birds, amphibians and lizards that happen by. But the adder’s scentless nature might not just serve its hunting game.
“While it’s extremely poisonous, it’s not very quick. The scientists noted that in previous reports that followed puff adders, the more mobile the snake was, the greater chance it would be caught by predators,” according to Red Orbit. “Scentlessness could be for the snake’s protection, the researchers said.”
Puff adders, normally about 3 to 4 feet in length, are a delightful species of snake; they have been known to bite humans multiple times in an attack, and half of serious untreated bites result in death.
Victims can experience pain, bleeding, renal failure and “compartment syndrome” – a condition where organs swell up to the point they restrict their own blood flow.
The snake is responsible for the most snakebite deaths in Africa due to a combination of factors, including wide distribution, common occurrence, large size, potent venom that is produced in large amounts, long fangs, their habit of basking by footpaths and sitting quietly when approached.
In addition, the relative lack of antivenin in rural Africa plays a role in the snake’s lethality.
While less than 5 percent of total puff adder bites result in death, that figure is higher than the overall death rate in Africa from snake bits, which is well below 2 percent. However, amputations and other surgeries are common in response to the bite of the snake, however.
(Top: Puff adder in action.)