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Rhinoceros Viper Snakelets: A first at the Zoo

Rhinoceros Viper Snakelets

Posted August 2019

The Milwaukee County Zoo is proud to announce the birth of seven rhinoceros viper snakes June 30. Zookeepers report that they are all healthy, and most, if not all, have shed their skin for the first time. They are currently developing off exhibit, and the zookeepers are taking care of each snake individually. The genders of the baby snakes, also known as neonates, are currently unknown.

This is an exciting birth for the Zoo, as this is the first time this species has reproduced here. The Zoo’s Aquatic Reptile Center (ARC) has housed the species for several decades, but only recently acquired female companions for the males.

Rhinoceros Viper Snakelet

The birth is also important for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Rhino vipers overall are relatively rare in AZA-accredited zoos, and, therefore, breeding is very rare. One of the neonates will stay at MCZ and the other six will be transferred to other accredited zoos.

The neonates are currently 6-8 inches long, while adults are typically between 23-35 inches long. All of the neonates have light blue heads with a brown arrow on top, and, like the adults, have blue-colored eyes with vertically elliptical pupils. Rhino vipers are heavily patterned and multicolored with browns, blacks, reds, yellows and blues. The snakes also have heavily keeled scales, giving them a rough texture. Rhino vipers get their name from the 2-3 pairs of horn-like projections off each nostril. The color of the projections is an adaptive feature and varies among individuals based on their habitat.

Little is known about the husbandry of this species, as it is not commonly part of zoo populations. Keepers have noticed that that the rhino vipers seem to prefer cooler temperatures than the other tropical snakes. They also say that the snakes are relatively laid back, and rarely hiss and almost never strike. However, they are venomous, and, in general, produce some of the loudest hisses of any snake in the world.

Rhino vipers are native to the tropical forests of Central and Western Africa, often near water. Like the Zoo’s rhino vipers, the snakes in the wild are known to be slow-moving and placid, and are typically not aggressive. The species is an ambush predator and rely on their camouflage to hide from their prey. They typically feed on small mammals, but have been observed eating fish and amphibians, too. The species is not considered threatened.