I was running up my favorite trail – a small mountain in Tub Kaak, Krabi province, when I saw my right foot coming down right in front of a Malayan pit viper. It was scary to know there was nothing I could do about it – I screamed out and pulled my foot away as fast as possible after landing, but with all my weight on it for a second, it wasn’t all that fast. The snake could have bitten me if it chose to.
But, luck was on my side and I’m walking around on both feet this morning. Lucky me! Watch this video so you can see just how important it is to watch where every footstep goes while hiking or running in the Thailand rainforest. These snakes and vipers in general are active at night and are also crepuscular, which means in the early morning and early evening. I have also seen them active during the daytime during and after a heavy rain.
Length: Usually less than 1 meter. Female Malayan Pit Vipers are the larger and fatter snakes. Males of the species don’t make it to 1 meter long.
Range: Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Java, Sumatra, Malaysia, Vietnam, Burma, and China.
Notes: These vipers are similar to North American “copperhead” snakes. They prefer dry, flat areas. They are known as lazy snakes. They may not move out of the way at all if someone is walking right toward them. After they bite they are known to remain in the same location. There are thousands of bites per year in Malaysia and Thailand from this snake.
These snakes are so dangerous when handled because they are not consistent with their behavior. One day they will be calm. The next, or the next 10 minutes – they will violently strike out lightening fast. Their preferred habitat is under dry leaves, wood, or rocks. They are active during the night mostly, especially during rain.
Nickname: Finger rotters – given by Al Coritz, Viperkeeper on YouTube. If they get you in the finger – you’ll likely lose part of your finger, hand, or arm without immediate care.
Habitat: Forests, rubber plantations, bamboo patches, farmland, grassland. Often lies in the short or long grass. These are terrestrial snakes that I’ve never seen climb anything.
Active Time? Day if cloudy and/or rainy, and night.
Defensive Behavior: Partially coiled with neck in an “S”. Their strike is very fast. Their fangs are long – and in the front of the mouth. Some strikes are short, others involve the whole body as it “jumps” at the same time it strikes. Don’t underestimate the distance this snake can reach when striking. Also, this snake is VERY good at striking behind its head. Watch the video.
Venom Toxicity: Very toxic. Venom is cytotoxic – it destroys all cells it comes in contact with – red blood cells, muscle, ligaments, and bone. With a quick hospital visit after a bite you may just lose part of your finger, or some tissue where the bite occurred. Most people don’t die if they go to the hospital. Deaths occur when bite victims delay seeking medical treatment. There is antivenom for this snake.
If you are bitten by this snake, do NOT wrap a tight band around the bite location. That will stop the venom from moving, from being diluted, and the tissue will suffer much more destruction.
Offspring: Lay eggs. Female guards them. Young are about 9 inches long and fast and thin. They are fully able to bite, and have full strength venom.
I showed a video at youtube (here) of a Malayan Pit Viper striking a mouse behind it – very fast. You can’t see how quickly the mouse dies, because the snake never let go of it. I saw it, being there up close, and I could have sworn it was dead in seconds.
I just found a new video uploaded at YT by a guy I’ve known online for a little while, showing an adult Malayan Pit Viper striking a mouse and paralyzing it immediately. It’s uncanny how fast the venom acted to paralyze this mouse!
I was out herping with a couple of friends the other night. We found a small (2m) Dog Toothed Cat Snake, as well as a juvenile Malayan Pit Viper. The Malayan was laying right across the path and didn’t move as my friends approached. Good thing they saw it – it was pitch black, and one of their flashlights (torches, brits say) was fading. I’m very glad they saw it.
Malayan Pit Vipers kill more people in Thailand than any other snake does. The kraits are a close second. Identification of kraits is a bit difficult, so sometimes the banded kraits are called “Malayan Kraits” or “Blue Kraits” and vice versa.
Many people, after a bite from a Malayan pit viper – will not seek medical treatment. This is a contributor to the high death rates resulting from bites from this snake.
If you are bitten by a snake and you don’t know what it is – get to the hospital and try to ID it from there. Many hospitals have books you can thumb through – with photos.
I’m in the middle of creating an ebook with Thailand’s snakes, that I’ll either give away – or charge 99 cents for, so it will make identification easier and less harmless snakes will be killed out of ignorance.
This lovely 1 meter long Malayan Pit Viper was submitted by a reader of Thailand Snakes (.com), John Helm in Jomtien Beach, near Pattaya, Thailand. The photo was taken on 3/7/11.
John moved the snake from his patio over a wall separating his house from some heavy bush.
These snakes appear to be lazy, or not aggressive – and John said this as well. However, they are violent strikers and can hit you from further than you think. In addition to that, Malayan Pit Vipers can strike backwards VERY fast and VERY accurately. They need not strike out forward… In fact, I have a video of one striking a mouse I put in the cage on Youtube here. It struck backward.
The other day I was observing one and dangling some paper behind it – it struck VERY fast and nailed it.
These snakes are reported to cause more deaths in Thailand than any other snake. The reason I presume, is because they bite village people who either rely on natural medicines – leaves rubbed on the wound, for instance – instead of getting to a hospital they can’t afford.
These and the Russell’s Vipers are the most dangerous snakes in Thailand for bites… with the monocled cobras (Naja kaouthia) coming next I’m sure (no evidence, just guessing).