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Atheris s. squamigera ( Variable Bush Viper )
By Derek Morgan

Birth: 6 to 8 inches
Adult: 18 to 30 inches

VenomType: Hemotoxic

LD50: 5mg/kg s.c.

Antivenom: None

variable bush viper atheris squamiger
Photo Courtesy of Derek Morgan

Atheris squamigera is a small-sized, mostly nocturnal and somewhat arboreal species with maximum sizes ranging from 18 to 30 inches in length, with males being much smaller than females. There is only one species recognized at this time with no subspecies. The body color is quite variable, ranging from uniform green to red, yellow, blue, black, orange or any combination of these colors. This species may change coloration throughout life from birth to adulthood. In example, babies that are born green can change into adults of vibrant colors, or the exact opposite may happen. The scales are heavily keeled, which leads to a somewhat hairy appearance. Unlike A. ceratophora, A. squamigera do not rasp their scales together to make a hissing sound. Tail tips are usually yellow or cream colored and are used for caudal luring by young animals. The tail is also prehensile and is used for grasping, and sometimes hanging from, branches to ambush unsuspecting prey.

orange variable bush viper atheris squamiger
Photo Courtesy of Derek Morgan

Care Information:

It is recommended that all animals be caged individually, as aggression and cannibalism have been witnessed with this species. Males and females may be especially testy during breeding cycles and care should be taken to avoid any unnecessary bites. Tall, spacious cages are needed for this species to exhibit their natural arboreal tendencies, though the degree of arboreal time may vary from individual to individual. They have also been kept quite successfully in tubs in rack systems with just enough height given for the animals to get off of the floor of the cages. Being ambush predators, they can be quite inactive at times, but may roam their cages at night during other times. Contrary to previous information, I have witnessed all of my bush vipers drinking from water bowls and I supply one with fresh water at all times. Supplemental misting may be beneficial, especially to fresh imports not accustomed to the water bowl yet.

Environmental conditions:

Anything from newspaper to Repti Bark to cypress mulch has been used successfully with this species. Substrate typically comes down to keeper preferences, but cedar mulch should be avoided with all reptiles.

Hidespot: May be used more frequently by certain individuals, but not at all by others. I always offer a hide spot, whether it is a half-moon bark hide, or just a dense cluster of plastic plant leaves.

Humidity: Is extremely variable in the wild with this species. Through much of their natural range, this species goes through extreme drought periods followed by heavy rain periods. They are very adept at handling any level of humidity, as long as the extremes are not visited for
extended periods of time. If kept too dry or too wet for extended periods, they will develop respiratory infections. I keep animals at normal room levels of humidity for my region throughout most of the year, and that will range from 40-60% humidity. During natural rainy cycles here (spring and fall), I allow the humidity to rise and I provide more misting of the individual cages, as well.

Temperature: A thermal gradient should be offered, with the warm end of the enclosure in the lower 80s (F) and the cool end in the low to mid 70s (F). Offer both a hidespot and a roost on both ends of the spectrum so that the snake doesnt have to pick a proper roosting spot over the proper temperature that it wants to be in. Nighttime drops of 5 degrees or so are acceptable, if desired to do so.

Feeding: In captivity, many bush vipers will feed to obesity, especially females. Its far too easy for the keeper to eagerly feed an animal that so readily enjoys being fed, but this is usually to the detriment of the animals. Fat animals do not breed well and do not live long. Appropriately-sized rodents are the typical diet in captivity and they are higher in fat content than the frogs and lizards that make up most of their diet in the wild, so feed accordingly. Babies may be fed weekly to encourage rapid and healthy growth, but as they mature, feedings should decrease in frequency. I feed juveniles every 10-14 days and adults may go 3-5 weeks between feedings, depending on the time of year. Neonates typically will take to baby mice (pinkies) with little problem, but some babies may be stubborn. Small neonates will need the pinkies cut into parts for them to feed on or may need to be tease fed. Tease feeding involves tapping the babys tail, body, or nose with the prey item in order to entice it to ea Also, being nocturnal, problematic feeders may respond better to nighttime feedings.

Venom: While considered mildly venomous at one time, it has since been proven that these guys pack a punch. Deaths have been reported due to their bites and there are two reports of Atheris bites in the US that were very serious, although both keepers survived. I have also heard bite accounts where swelling and local pain occurred, but little else. So just like with any other venom, each bite is different and each person reacts differently to the venom. There is no specific antivenin produced for Atheris, but it has been reported that Echis polyvalent has been used with success when dealing with Atheris squamigera bites

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