Behavior

Some viperids move over large areas in search of prey during their active season, whereas others are more sedentary. In temperate areas vipers and pitvipers hibernate for several months, and some species (Vipera dinniki, V. darevskii, and Gloydius montícola) at high elevations can hibernate for two-thirds of the year. There is no real territoriality, but in some species, such as V. berus, the males actively protect areas around reproductive females during the mating period.

Gold morph of an eyelash viper (Bothriechis schlegelii) coiled on heli-conia (Heliconia imbricata). (Photo by Michael Fogden. Bruce Coleman, Inc. Reproduced by permisson.)

Some vipers inflate their bodies into sausage shapes when they are excited. Almost all vipers also can assume a plate-shaped coiled position as a threat gesture, in which they lift up the neck and hold it in an S shape. Other threat behaviors include loud hissing and rapid forward jerks of the head. Some sand dwellers, such as the saw-scaled vipers, create a particularly impressive sound by rubbing their scales together. Many species of pitvipers vibrate their tails when disturbed, and the evolution of the rattle resulted in amplifiction of the sound produced by this behavior. Several pitviper species (e.g., Agkistrodon piscivorus and Bothriechis schlegelii) give a silent but effective warning by gaping to reveal the bright white lining of the mouth.

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