Mangrove Pit Viper and the Saltwater Crocodile

on 2nd October 2015

Around March 2014 sgbeachbum spotted an unusual ‘S’ curve on the water beside a tree through some vegetation at the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. It looked a bit rough. A closer look through the lens confirmed it to be a snake… most likely a Mangrove Pit Viper (aka shore pit viper, Cryptelytrops purpureomaculatus) (above). It soon started moving and then I saw its head.

This was definitely a pit viper. It must have got caught by the fast rising tide on a low branch and had to take to the water to get to higher wood. It kept swimming to various stems in the water but did not get a snake-hold on any of them. After some time on the water surface, it managed to slither up the bark of a small tree. As it moved further up, a small stem with leaves slightly below it moved as well. I did not think that the movement was caused by the snake as it was a rather small snake (about 35 cm long) and was unlikely to cause such movement.

croc-a-viper @ sg buloh – March 2014 from SgBeachBum on Vimeo.

Looking down, I saw an elongated dark log just below the snake. It had not been there before when the snake had started moving up. I then noticed that the dark log had teeth… very sharp teeth. It was quickly obvious that the snake’s swimming on the water surface around the tree had caused a perceptible disturbance that alerted the nearby Saltwater Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) to investigate (below).

The croc eyed the viper for a few seconds before opening its mouth targeting the snake. I had initially assumed that the croc had succeeded in ending the viper’s earth-time as I could not see any trace of the viper after the croc targeted it. The croc moved away to a nearby rut along the waterline.

I wondered if the viper could inflict a bite on the croc. The Mangrove Pit Viper is a highly venomous snake after all.

This account was initially posted HERE.

October 2015

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

Other posts by YC Wee

3 Responses

  1. Two comments, about pit vipers and crocodiles. Please note from the video that the Pit Viper seems to ride very high in the water, when compared to other snakes. It almost appears to be ON the water, rather than IN the water. This is characteristic of some species of Pit Vipers. I am not prepared to say how many species, but I know this to be true of our local Shore Pit Viper, the American Water Moccasin, and one or two of the Malaysian species.

    Second point. Splashing attracts not only crocodiles, but other predators as well. All you need to do to get a croc to snap is to create a commotion beside it.

    And finally, can a croc eat a shore pit viper without any ill effects? Certainly. Snake venom is a protein, and can be digested, even by human beings (provided that you do not have stomach ulcers to allow it to enter your blood stream). If it could catch the snake, a croc of the size of the one in the video would have no problem disposing of a pit viper with just one bite. And if the snake did manage to sink its fangs into the croc, well, all our local pit vipers are poisonous, but not highly poisonous. Though their bites are extremely painful, and cause much local tissue necrosis, there are numerous cases of people who have recovered without any treatment whatsoever.

    By the way, lots of Chinese eat snakes, in the literal sense. For our friends abroad who do not understand Singaporean colloquial terms, ‘Eat Snake” means to shirk work.

  2. OK Richard, I stand corrected. Vipers are not poisonous, unlike puffer fish. You can eat a viper quite safely and survive. But they are venomous, though I would argue that the Shore Pit Viper is not highly so.
    How do I know? This species was not uncommon in the Serangoon/Tampines/Punggol area during the 1950s and 1960s. It bears more than a passing resemblance to the Dog Faced Water Snake (Cerberus rhynchops) which was often hauled up in the nets of shrimp fishermen, who used to simply toss them aside.
    Every now and then, a viper would get mistaken for a Dog Faced Water Snake, and someone would get bitten. Many of the victims, including myself, survived without professional medical treatment. Nevertheless, the experience was painful.
    By the way, because the vipers are generally more stout than Cerberus, (and both are live bearers) the rumour became established that male Dog Faced Water Snakes were harmless, but that the females were venomous.

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