Horned Adder (Bitis caudalis) Care Sheet
The Horned Adder is found in Southern Africa. Horned Adders are quite difficult snakes to keep and they are not recommended for novice keepers. Despite this, they are beautiful, amazing little snakes. Their side winding, puffing, burying nature makes for an interesting keep and of course their horns look wicked.
Horns are born extremely tiny; this makes feeding them extremely difficult. To make life a lot easier, get your adder a little older and already eating pinkies. However, if you are up to a bit of a challenge, give hatchlings a try.
Horned Adders are quite tricky to care for in the housing department, but once established, they are easy. The usual laws of snake keeping do not apply to the Horned Adder. Horned Adders require a really dry condition; a water bowl is not needed in their enclosure. Hatchlings are kept in a medium size Desert Den (critter keeper) that is 14"x 8" x 6" (36cm x 21cm x 16cm). Adults can be housed in the medium or large size Desert Den 18"x 11" x 6 1/2" (46cm x 30cm x 17cm). The Desert Dens are made out of plastic and have ventilation slots in the top. Adders do not move around a lot so they do not require a large space.
For a substrate, desert sand (about 1 to 1.5 inches deep) is recommended; this is their natural substrate. They really like to side wind and bury in the sand. Cleaning is easy because you can just scoop the droppings out of the sand. Replace the sand every six months or as needed and monitor for cleanliness.
Horned Adders require some sort of a hiding place. A small piece of driftwood that runs the length of the enclosure will work as a hide.
Recommended daytime temperatures for the Adder is 80 degrees F. The hot /basking spot should be around 89F to 94F. Overhead lighting is needed for the Horned Adder. Do not use heating pads under your enclosure! Horned adders are from the desert and when they need to cool down they bury under the sand where it is naturally cooler. If there is a heating pad under them they will bury even deeper to get cool resulting in your poor snake dying from overheating.
Use an overhead light for heat requirements; this also helps for keeping their home dry. Leave it on for 12 hours a day during the summer season; the light duration only needs to be changed when the Adders are nearing breeding time.
Horned Adders need to be removed from their enclosure occasionally. Once a week put them in a tub with a little water to have a quick swim and soak. The Adder will also use this time to drink; they may drink quite a bit if they are thirsty. They get a lot of moisture from their prey, but don't entirely rely on this. Newborns need to be dried off with a napkin before placing them back so that they don't get a whole lot of sand stuck to them.
Newborn Horned Adders are only 9cm (3 1/2") long and can be very difficult to feed. Do not feed prey that is too large, as newborns tend to regurgitate easily. Giving them water right after feeding can also cause regurgitation. A system of cycling water and food is suggested. Small baby geckos and skinks can be fed once or twice a week. Another possibility is a small, super tiny, midget of a mouse pink. Adders react to movement; they don't really use their tongues to smell for prey at all. Drop a pink just the right distance away from them they will automatically strike and hold on; instantaneous reaction. For best results feed them when they are in ambush position, buried with their head and horns sticking out. They also sometimes stick their tails vertically out the ground and wriggle it to imitate a worm to attract lizards. This is a sure sign they are hungry and will eat; these times are the best to try out a pink! Once they are eating pinks routinely, feeding should no longer be a problem. These snakes are easy to keep once established. As they grow, gradually increase their prey size. Always try to keep the same thickness as the girth of their body.
Also, they are ambush predators; if you are feeding pre-killed food items, remove them if they don't take it because they will just leave the food, letting it spoil. If the Adder does not attack the food, try dragging or dropping the food in front of them again, in hopes that they will strike.
Horned Adders seem to have no shedding problems, but they take forever between sheds. This is normal for their first shed it takes on average 4 to 5 months!
Do not underestimate these little guys! They strike fast and the venom reaction can be quite bad. No deaths have been reported, but their cytotoxic venom can cause permanent damage and is painful! Please always use a hook stick. The newborns are quite docile but after they start taking pinks they become more aggressive. Always play it safe with hots, no matter how venomous they are. Any bite just gives the hobby a bad rep.When keeping snakes, it is never the snakes fault, just human stupidity.
Author: Devon Massyn
Bitis caudalis Main - © Devon Massyn
Bitis caudalis - © H. Vannoy Davis - California Academy of Sciences
Bitis caudalis - © Gerald & Buff Corsi - California Academy of Sciences
Bitis caudalis - © Al Coritz
Bitis caudalis - © Al Coritz