[Page Updated: 2 July 2021]
Trimeresurus purpureomaculatus – Mangove Pit Viper
Also known as mangrove viper, shore pit viper, Gray’s pit viper, purple-spotted pit viper, and shore pit viper. In the past (2004-2011) this snake was called Cryptelytrops purpureomaculatus.
Thais Say: Ngoo pang ka. Please keep in mind almost no Thais you meet will know this name for the snake. Names in Thai are descriptive of what the snake looks like or does, so it helps little to ask if Thais know this snake unless you’re talking to a biologist.
Length: Males grow to about 60 cm and females to 90 cm on average. These are short/thick snakes when adult.
Habitat: Usually near water and very wet areas like mangroves along the ocean or brackish water. However, recently one was found on a sidewalk by a bungalow on the island of Koh Phi Phi in Krabi province, Thailand. They like stream banks with good cover – low lying plants that they can hide under. They also can be found in hilly habitat and have been found as high as 2,000 meters elevation in bamboo jungles. These snakes are found in high numbers on islands surrounding Thailand. I have found this species in some abundance along the shore in mangroves in Krabi province and they are also plentiful in Phuket and Phang Nga.
There seems to be some difference in coloration depending where the mangrove pit viper is found. When on the mangrove trees, they tend to be dark to blend in with the very dark brown/black of the roots of the trees. When found living like rattlesnakes on the ground on a hill, they can be black and white or other coloration that is a bit lighter and which blends in better with rocks.
Prey: I have seen them in the mud of the mangroves crawling down into crab holes. Do they eat crabs like the other non-venomous crab-eating snake? I’m not sure. Would having venom help them subdue crabs? Could they pierce the bony shell of a crab? Not sure about any of this. I haven’t seen it stated what these snakes eat, but I’m guessing lizards, geckos, gliding lizards (Draco genus) rats, mice, birds, and possibly the mudskippers that cover the mangroves when the tide is out.
Behavior: Diurnal, nocturnal, and arboreal. These snakes are very easily agitated, and once they get going they are slow to calm down. Their strikes are very fast, but have a short reach.
These Thailand pit vipers can have many color variations. They are usually like the photo above – greyish with a bit of purple in the coloring. Some are very purple. We’ve also seen a brownish toned mangrove pit viper with some yellow highlights. Now for our top photo we have a greenish toned viper. Obviously – color is highly variable in this species. Tom Charlton found black variations on Langkawi Island in Malaysia, and John Paul Foenander has also found dark, even black, specimens in Singapore.
Venom toxicity: Venomous and very toxic to humans. Though people have died as a result of bites from this snake, this is not usually the case. Symptoms including pain, severe swelling, bruising, blistering, and necrosis are more likely. Going immdiately to a hospital after a bite by any snake can almost ensure that you will come through the experience OK. It is when people delay and second guess going to the hospital that they develop complications and increase the probability of death or other severe problems.
Here (sorry, the link isn’t active any longer) is a study of treating a bite by this snake with T. albolabris antivenom from the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute with some success. Tell the hospital that you need the green pit viper antivenom if bitten by this snake. There is no specific antivenom just for this snake, but the one mentioned does help considerably with symptoms.
Treatment: Antivenin is indicated.
Antivenom Name – Green Pit Viper Antivenin (Code – SAsTRC01)
Manufacturer: Thai Red Cross Society
Phone: +66-2-252-0161, 0162, 0163, 0164
Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute
1871 Rama IV Road, Pathumwan, Bangkok 10330 Thailand
Mangrove Pit Viper Scientific Classification
Species: T. purpureomaculatus
Classified as – Trimeresurus purpureomaculatus by Gray in year 1832.
Photo Credits: Top image © Vern Lovic. Second from top image of the Mangrove pit viper photo © Richard Richert. Photo gallery by Ned Preradovic and all images used with permission.