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Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Viperidae
Subfamily: Viperinae
Genus: Proatheris
Broadley, 1996
Species: P. superciliaris
Binomial name
Proatheris superciliaris
(Peters, 1854)
  • Proatheris - Broadley, 1996[1]

  • Vipera superciliaris - Peters, 1854
  • Bitis superciliaris - Kramer, 1961
  • Atheris superciliaris - Marx & Rabb, 1965
  • Proatheris superciliaris - Broadley, 1996[1]

Common names: lowland viper, swamp viper,[2] lowland swamp viper, [3] eyebrow viper, [4] more.  
Proatheris is a monotypic genus[5] created for a venomous viper species, P. superciliaris. This is a small terrestrial species found in Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique.[2] No subspecies are currently recognized.[5]

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A small species that averages 40 to 50 cm and a maximum of 61 cm in length. The females are slightly larger than the males. The head has a somewhat elongated appearance, the top of which is covered with small scales except for a pair of large supraocular scales, which are almost twice as long as they are wide.[4]

Common names

Lowland viper, swamp viper,[2] lowland swamp viper,[3] eyebrow viper, swamp adder, [4] Peter's viper, flood-plain viper.[6]

Geographic range

Found in East Africa. The southern part of its range begins near Beira, in central Mozambique, extends up north over the Mozambique Plain to Quissanga, and through Malawi and as far north as the floodplains of southern Tanzania at the northern end of Lake Malawi. The type locality given is "Terra Querimba" (Quissanga mainland oppositeIlha Quirimba, Mozanbique).[1]

Its range it apparently centered around the lower section of the Zambezi River and spreads out into the coastal plain of central Mozambique and the Shire Valley to Lake Chilwa and Malawi. However, other specimens have been found far from this region, such as in Cape Delgado, in north-eastern Mozambique, and Mwaya in south-western Tanzania.[2]


Almost always found in low-lying marshes, floodplains and land frequently used for grazing cattle. The soil is never too dry, since this would make it difficult for the rodents that they feed on to dig their burrows. These snakes are entirely terrestrial and are usually found in or around these rodent burrows.[4]


One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Atheris group (to which Proatheris is closely related), is that they have prehensile tails. With Proatheris, the young and subadults have this capability, but it is diminished in the adults.[4]


Preys mainly on small frogs and toads. Occasionally, it also feeds on small rodents.[2]


First known case reported by Els (1988) involving a 20 cm juvenile and 24-year-old victim penetrated by a single fang. The results were painful, but there were none of the strongly hemotoxic symptoms that had been associated with Atheris venom up to that point.[4]

In a second case in 1996, however, the victim experienced severe hemolysis and complete platelet destruction after which the liver and kidneys began to fail. When it was feared that the patient may die from hemolytic-uremic syndrome, a plasmapheresis was performed. Luckily, the patient survived, but it is now obvious that P. superciliaris venom is very hemotoxic.[7]


This species was previously placed in the genus Atheris based on skull characteristics and because of its partially prehensile tail.[4] The name Proatheris is Latin for "before-atheris".[6]

See also

Cited references

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 McDiarmid RW, Campbell JA, Touré T. 1999. Snake Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference, vol. 1. Herpetologists' League. 511 pp. ISBN 1-893777-00-6 (series). ISBN 1-893777-01-4 (volume).
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Spawls S, Branch B. 1995. The Dangerous Snakes of Africa. Ralph Curtis Books. Dubai: Oriental Press. 192 pp. ISBN 0-88359-029-8.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Species Proatheris superciliaris at the Species2000 Database
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Mallow D, Ludwig D, Nilson G. 2003. True Vipers: Natural History and Toxinology of Old World Vipers. Krieger Publishing Company, Malabar, Florida. 359 pp. ISBN 0-89464-877-2.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Proatheris (TSN 634427) at Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Accessed 23 March 2007. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "ITIS-G" defined multiple times with different content
  6. 6.0 6.1 Proatheris superciliaris at World of Atheris (
  7. Venom at World of Atheris (

Other references

  • Els R. 1988. Atheris superciliaris envenomation. J Herpetol Assoc Afr 34:52.
  • Marais J. 1992. A Complete Guide to the Snakes of Southern Africa. Malabar (FL): Krieger Publishing. 248 pp.
  • Marx H., Rabb G.B. 1965. Phyletic analysis of fifty characters of advanced snakes. Field Zool 63:1-321.
  • Stevens RA. 1973. A report on the lowland viper, Atheris superciliaris from the Lake Chilwa floodplain of Malawi. Arnoldia (Rhodesia) 22:1-22.

External links