Many-horned adder (Bitis cornuta)

Many-horned adder
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Many-horned adder fact file

Many-horned adder description

GenusBitis (1)

This small venomous snake is named for the distinctive tuft of two to seven horn-like scales above each eye (4) (5). The body is usually a greyish to reddish-brown colour above, with three or four longitudinal rows of black squarish blotches down its length, between which there may be a series of contrasting pale patches. The one or two rows of black marks on the back are highly conspicuous, while the row down each side of the body is paler and less well-defined (4) (5). Underparts are white to brownish, either uniformly coloured or spotted with dark brown (5). Females are typically larger than males (2).

Bitis albanica, Bitis armata.
Average length: 30 – 40 cm (2)

Many-horned adder biology

The many-horned adder buries itself in loose sand for camouflage against predators and prey (2), and can often be observed with only the top of its head protruding above the surface (5). It also adopts a side-winding mode of locomotion to help it move on the loose surface of desert sands (2) (5). When threatened, this snake hisses loudly and writhes vigorously, and may strike with such force that its whole body comes completely off the ground (2) (5). These small adders prey primarily on lizards, but will also occasionally take rodents, birds and amphibians (2) (4).

The many-horned adder is solitary, only coming together to breed (2). Between 5 and 14 live young are born (2), usually during the latter part of the summer or early autumn (5).


Many-horned adder range

Like all Bitis species, the many-horned adder is native to Africa (6), and of the species of the Bitis cornuta – inornata complex, the many-horned adder has the widest distribution (7). This snake is confined to the western coast of the southern tip of Africa, from southern Namibia, south through Namaqualand, to the Saldanha area of South Africa. Although records also exist further south of Saldanha, these require confirmation as there may have been confusion with other adder species (4).


Many-horned adder habitat

The many-horned adder is found in mountainous and rocky areas of the Namib Desert and in the mountains south of the desert (2).


Many-horned adder status

This species has not yet been classified by the IUCN. The many horned adder belongs to the Bitis cornuta – inornata species complex, an enigmatic group of rare dwarf adders consisting of five species that have only recently been revised (3).


Many-horned adder threats

Like many other reptiles of southern Africa, this adder is threatened by habitat destruction (4) as a result of development and/or wild veld fires, and also by illegal collection for the pet trade (7).


Many-horned adder conservation

There are currently no known conservation measures protecting this species.

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

For more information on the many-horned adder see:



Authenticated (11/07/2006) by Dr. Tony Phelps, Squamate Ecologist and founder of the Cape Reptile Institute.



Any of the open grassy plains of southern Africa.


  1. UNEP-WCMC (May, 2006)
  2. WhoZoo: Animals of the Fort Worth Zoo (June, 2006)
  3. Branch, W.R. (1999) Dwarf adders of the Bitis cornuta-inornata complex (Serpentes:Viperidae) in South Africa. Kaupia, 8: 39 - 63.
  4. CapeNature (June, 2006)
  5. Snakes of South Africa (June, 2006)
  6. GLOBALHERP (June, 2006)
  7. Phelps, T. (2006) Pers. comm.

Image credit

Many-horned adder  
Many-horned adder

© Tony Phelps / Cape Reptile Institute

Cape Reptile Institute
Cape Reptile Institute
P.O. Box 1221
South Africa
Tel: +27 (0) 763780132


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