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What is a Carpet Viper?

Misty Amber Brighton
Misty Amber Brighton

The carpet viper, sometimes referred to as a saw-scaled viper, is a poisonous snake found primarily in Africa and India. This reptile is known for being able to strike quickly and without warning. It is typically very venomous, so a bite can often be fatal. The snake typically has brown or gray markings which tend to camouflage the reptile, often making it difficult to notice until a person is bitten.

This snake is usually anywhere from 14.96 to 23.62 inches (38 to 60 cm) in length, but can occasionally be as long as 31.5 inches (80 cm) long. The head of a carpet viper is somewhat wider than the rest of its body. It is also flat on top with a slightly rounded snout. Scales cover the head and belly of the animal.

A carpet viper may eat frogs.
A carpet viper may eat frogs.

A carpet viper is usually gray or brown with periodic white spots on or near the head. It often has what appears to be a diamond pattern on its back, similar to that of a copperhead snake. The colorings of this reptile help it hide in the crevices of rocks or in trees. It can even bury itself in the sand, leaving only the head exposed.

More snakebites are reported from these snakes than most other venomous vipers. This is due in part to the fact that these animals are often inconspicuous, and people stumble upon them accidentally. They are quick-tempered reptiles that do not necessarily need to be provoked before striking. The snakes are extremely fast-moving, and give little or no warning that they are planning to attack.

A bite from a carpet viper can be fatal.
A bite from a carpet viper can be fatal.

In addition to biting often, a carpet viper carries a great deal of venom. An average snake may transmit up to 12 mg per bite. A lethal dose for a typical adult is only around 5 mg. For this reason, people who are bitten by this reptile often die before they are able to receive medical treatment.

A carpet viper usually dines on lizards, frogs, and large insects. It might also eat scorpions and centipedes if they are available. This snake does not generally seek out one type of prey over another, but rather chooses the species that are easiest to catch.

A female carpet viper carries her young inside her body until they are ready to be born. Baby snakes develop inside eggs that are hatched in the womb shortly before birth. There can be up to fifteen offspring in each litter, and most births taking place in the summer months.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Carpet Viper?

A Carpet Viper is a venomous snake belonging to the genus Echis, which is known for its distinctive keeled scales that create a carpet-like pattern. These snakes are found in dry regions of Africa and parts of the Middle East, and they are responsible for a significant number of snakebite incidents due to their potent venom and proximity to human settlements.

How venomous is the Carpet Viper?

The Carpet Viper is highly venomous, with venom that contains hemotoxins and cytotoxins, leading to severe bleeding, tissue damage, and potentially fatal coagulopathy. According to the World Health Organization, Echis species are among the snakes causing the most snakebite envenomings and fatalities in Africa.

Where can Carpet Vipers be found?

Carpet Vipers are predominantly found in the arid and semi-arid regions of sub-Saharan Africa, extending to parts of the Middle East. They thrive in habitats ranging from savannas and rocky outcrops to scrublands, often hiding under rocks or within sand or leaf litter.

What do Carpet Vipers eat?

Carpet Vipers are carnivorous and primarily feed on small mammals, birds, and sometimes reptiles. They employ a "sit-and-wait" hunting strategy, using their cryptic coloration to blend into their surroundings and ambush prey that comes within striking distance.

How do Carpet Vipers reproduce?

Carpet Vipers are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs. Females typically lay clutches of 8 to 20 eggs, which they deposit in warm, humid locations such as under rocks or in burrows. The eggs incubate for about one to two months before hatching, with the young snakes being independent from birth.

What should I do if bitten by a Carpet Viper?

If bitten by a Carpet Viper, it is crucial to seek immediate medical attention. The bite can cause severe symptoms, including swelling, pain, and uncontrolled bleeding. Antivenom is the most effective treatment for a Carpet Viper envenomation, and rapid administration can be life-saving. While waiting for medical help, keep the affected limb immobilized and below heart level.

Discussion Comments


@croydon - One of the only good things about them is that the venom isn't that fast acting, so you've got longer to get to medical services. It's the kind of venom that makes you bleed more (for example, internally) and apparently it can take a couple of days to work (although there will be effects very quickly as well).

The unfortunate thing about snake bites is that they often happen out in the middle of nowhere and that's what ends up killing people. Most venom can be counteracted these days, it's just that people don't make it to the hospital in time to do that.

The other problem is when people don't recognize the snake and the wrong anti-venom is given to the victim. So one of the most important things you can do if someone has been bitten is to get a good look at the snake so the doctor will know how to help.


@pastanaga - I saw on a documentary that it's not so much that they will chase you, as that they strike in a funny way. They make their warning sound by rubbing their scales together and it means that if they try to strike while doing that, they will end up falling towards the victim, making it look like they are coming closer. Well, I mean, they are coming closer, but not because they are deliberately chasing someone.

Either way, they are scary and it sounds like a good idea to avoid them.


When I was living in Africa as a volunteer we were given a presentation on snakes before we were put out into villages and this was one of the snakes that they told us to avoid as much as possible.

It's not as deadly as some other kinds of snake, in terms of the venom, but it is way more temperamental.

One of the men telling us about snakes said that this kind of snake will actually follow you, trying to bite you, rather than just trying to escape like some other snakes will. He was generally a fan of live and let live, but he said he would actively try to kill these snakes, just because they were so dangerous to have around people.

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    • A carpet viper may eat frogs.
      A carpet viper may eat frogs.
    • A bite from a carpet viper can be fatal.
      By: Remus Moise
      A bite from a carpet viper can be fatal.