Kingdom  Animalia 
Phylum Chordata
Order  Squamata 
Family  Viperidae
Genus  Bitis
Species nasicornis


Closely related to the Gaboon Viper (Bitis rhinoceros & gabonica), Bitis nasicornis is a heavy bodied viper with some of the most beautiful colorations of all venomous snakes. There are many people that recommend these snakes as beginner “hots”, just about as much people that don’t recommend them as beginner venomous snakes. I understand why this is the case: they are slow moving (compared to other snakes), will most likely just sit there (ambush predators), and they are very easy to care for. However, their venom is very dangerous and can certainly kill you. The chances of death without anti-venom are high.


It can reach up to a length of 43 inches, however, the longest recorded rhinoceros viper was of 47 inches. It has a triangular, flat, and relatively small head and thin neck as compared to the other body. There are two to three pairs of horns like scales are present at the end of the nose which is a distinctive feature of this species. Eyes of the snake are quite small and set forward. The whole body of the snake is covered with scales that are rough and heavily keeled. The color of the scales of the snake is blue to green and white at tips.


These snakes prefer wet and damp areas and can also be found in vegetation and to some extent in woodlands. They are nocturnal in behavior and wait for their prey in leaf litters, tangled roots and stems (fallen) of forest trees. Although they are slow-moving snakes, they can strike quickly in 270° without warning.

Venom & Behavior

This snake can kill you and is considered to have medically significant venom. Bitis nasicornis is not considered aggressive unless provoked. If tampered with it will generally puff up and give an extremely loud hiss.


  1. Antivenom Name: SAIMR Polyvalent Antivenom Code: SAfSAI03 Manufacturer: South African Vaccine Producers (Pty) Ltd, South Africa
  2. Antivenom Name: Polyvalent Snake Antivenom Code: SAfAVC02 Manufacturer: National Antivenom and Vaccine Production Centre, Saudi Arabia
  3. Antivenom Name: Antivipmyn Africa Code: SAfIBM01 Manufacturer: Instituto Bioclon, Mexico
  4. Antivenom Name: Pan-African antivenom Antivenom Code: SAfICP07 Manufacturer: Instituto Clodomiro Picado, Costa Rica

Geographical Range & Habitat

To see a map of their distribution, go here (2), here (3), or here (Recommended).

The Democratic Republic of The Congo has the most occurrences according to (13) “Bitis nasicornis lives in southern Sudan, in western Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, in the Congo, and in tropical western Africa, where it exists from sea level to altitudes of 2700 m.” (4:126)

“This generally nocturnal venomous snake prefers to live in moist, warm, tropical rain forests and is found very commonly in swampy forests that flood occasionally, along the banks of rivers, and in wet mountain meadows.” (4:126)

“Because of its preference for wet biotopes the rhinoceros viper is also called the “ riverjack. ” It is rarely found in the same area as Bitis gabonica. Another difference from that species is that it is not limited to a terrestrial existence, but has been encountered in trees and in bushes. It is an excellent swimmer and leads a semiaquatic existence — half of it connected with water.”(4:126)

“Terrestrial and nocturnal snake, but does climb into shrubs and trees to a maximum of about 3 metres above ground level. A good swimmer. sometimes found in shallow forest pools. Mild disposition, slow moving but can strike quickly both forwards and to the side if provoked. Tends to hiss ( quite loudly if angered ) and puff a lot if approached. Prefers to hide in leaf litter, among fallen trees or among root tangles of large trees during the day. Hunts at night by ambush awaiting for prey to come within striking range.”

“Biomes: Tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannas, and shrublands; Tropical and Subtropical Moist Broadleaf Forests Ecoregions: Albertine Rift montane forests; Atlantic Equatorial coastal forests; Central Congolian lowland forests; Cross-Niger transition forests; Cross-Sanaga-Bioko coastal forests; East African montane forests; Eastern Arc forests; Eastern Congolian swamp forests; Eastern Guinean forests; Guinean montane forests; Mount Cameroon and Bioko montane forests; Niger Delta swamp forests; Nigerian lowland forests; Northeastern Congolian lowland forests; Northern Congolian forest-savanna mosaic; Northwestern Congolian lowland forests; Southern Congolian forest-savanna mosaic; Victoria Basin forest-savanna mosaic; Western Congolian forest-savanna mosaic; Western Congolian swamp forests; Western Guinean lowland forests” (


These snakes are easy to care for relative to other snakes. Some people use just paper towels or newspaper, a heat lamp or pad. Most of the time these snakes will be found sitting in one place for long periods of time and will simply wait as they are ambush predators.

“Healthy rhinoceros vipers — -juvenile specimens become accustomed to life in captivity the best — should be kept in a rain forest terrarium with a substrate of leafy humus or peat. High humidity — but not stale air — and mostly constant temperatures between 23 and 25°C are most appealing for this snake. The terrarium should not be in too bright a location either, since this is a forest snake. Chances of success are greatest if the temperatures don ’ t vary much at all.” (4:127)

Bitis nasicornis inhabits the tropical forests of Central and Western Africa, often near water, or some sort of swampy environment. Because of this habitat preference it is often called the River Jack (Lipsett 1999). It has, however, been reported in relatively dry forest areas. Mainly terrestrial, it will climb trees, in search of food.”(6)

“Small mammals are the main staple, but they are also reported to eat amphibians and fish.”


“The well ­being of the young snakes depends a lot on constant temperatures between 25 and 27°C and a relatively high moisture content of the substrate. The young Bitis nasicornis should be sprayed often with lukewarm water. The rearing terrarium should have shade provided by the plantings. It should be kept in mind that stressful conditions must be avoided.” (4:127)

From February to April 20-40 live young are born, which are about 19-26 cm in length at birth.

Bitis nasicornis is a viviparous animal, giving birth to 6-35 young, at the start of the rainy season, (March – April). Young are approximately 18-25 cm, brilliantly colored and venomous (Stenstrom 1999).”(6)

Recorded Health


The Following is the List of Accepted Species of the Genus Bitis:

  1. Bitis albanica
  2. Bitis arietans 
  3. Bitis armata 
  4. Bitis atropos 
  5. Bitis caudalis 
  6. Bitis cornuta 
  7. Bitis gabonica 
  8. Bitis harenna 
  9. Bitis heraldica
  10. Bitis inornata 
  11. Bitis nasicornis 
  12. Bitis parviocula 
  13. Bitis peringueyi 
  14. Bitis rhinoceros
  15. Bitis rubida 
  16. Bitis schneideri 
  17. Bitis worthingtoni
  18. Bitis xeropaga 

***This List is Subject to Change***

Works Cited & Further Research

  4. Venomous Snakes: Snakes in the Terrarium by Ludwig Trutnau