The Mangshan pit viper (Protobothrops mangshanensis) may not be an elapid like the cobra, but it is found to be the only other snake species capable of spitting its venom. The only places in the world you can find this snake are Mt. Mang and the Hunan and Guangdong Provinces of China. It is currently listed as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) because of its restricted range in combination of deforestation and human encroachment into its habitat. There is also a demand for it in the illegal pet trade business because of the stunningly gorgeous colors and patterns on its scales and its lovely green eyes. Fortunately, there are populations present in the Mangshan Natural Nature Reserve and captive breeding has been going on in several countries with fair success since 1994. 100 snakes have been bred as of 2010.
The Mangshan pit viper lives in mountainous, mixed pine and broad leaf forests in leaf litter, rotting wood, and caves. It typically reaches lengths of 5-7 feet and is a particularly heavy snake, getting up to about 11 pounds or so. This pit viper preys on frogs, rodents, birds, and insects. The tip of its tale is a pale, greenish white and is used to lure in the animals it hunts by mimicking a caterpillar or worm. The snake hides the rest of its body from sight and sticks up its tail, which is wriggled back and forth. When prey comes close enough, it strikes and injects a mix of hemotoxic and myotoxic venom with its 0.8 inch long fangs. Hemotoxin prevents blood coagulation and leads to hemorrhaging while myotoxin causes muscle paralysis and necrosis. Most vipers deliver large amounts of venom in a bite and this snake is no exception. Up to 960 milligrams can be injected by a single fang. As with all pit vipers, the Mangshan pit viper possesses small, temperature sensitive pits beneath its eyes that help it locate prey.
One man, Dr. Chen Yuanhui, has dedicated his life to protecting these snakes since 1990 when the species was officially recorded. Nicknamed “Dr. Snake”, Chen first heard about the pit viper in 1984 when he was given a description of it by a snakebite victim in the hospital where he worked. Several years later, in 1989, he was notified about a capture nearby of a nest of 23 snakes. He went to investigate and the snakes that were caught fit the exact description his patient had given him years ago – green and yellow markings with a white tail tip. Ever since then, Chen has kept several Mangshan pit vipers in his home and has conducted research and raised awareness about the need to conserve this species. He is also curator for the Mangshan Museum of Natural History.
It takes a lot of love and dedication to continue to care for and research these gorgeous pit vipers after having survived 9 bites over the past 30 years. It’s a great thing there are people like Dr. Yuanhui in the world to set an example for the rest of us about what can be done for endangered animals like the Mangshan pit viper.
1. Gong, Shi-ping, et al. “Population status, distribution and conservation needs of the Endangered Mangshan pit viper Protobothrops mangshanensis of China.” Oryx 47.01 (2013): 122-127.
2. O’Shea, Mark. Venomous Snakes of the World. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2011. 160. Print.
3. “Mangshan Pit Viper Fact Sheet.” San Diego Zoo. San Diego Zoo Global, 4 Apr. 2011. Web. 21 May 2015. <http://library.sandiegozoo.org/factsheets/mangshan_pit_viper/pit_viper.html>.
4. “Mangshan Pit Viper.” Arkive.org. Wildscreen, n.d. Web. 20 May 2015. <http%3A%2F%2Fwww.arkive.org%2Fmangshan-pit-viper%2Fprotobothrops-mangshanensis%2F>.
5. China Daily. “‘Dr. Snake’ Bears Fangs for Conservation.” China.org.cn. China Daily, 17 Feb. 2011. Web. 21 May 2015. <http://www.china.org.cn/environment/2011-02/17/content_21940781.htm>.