I had understood the puff adder to be one of the most dangerous snakes in the world; apparently, it kills more than thirty thousand people each year. From which I had concluded that it must be very aggressive, and liable to bite you if you step near it, let alone on it. If someone claimed you could step on one and not be bitten, I would've considered that a far-fetched claim requiring proof.

So I was utterly astonished to see this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7sDgwC30y0&list=PLifclHMpE23RlGN4QNZbK6OSPOV6oFE3d&index=3&ab_channel=AlJazeeraEnglish

(the relevant section is the couple of minutes starting at 11:11) The time-stamped link: https://youtu.be/e7sDgwC30y0?list=PLifclHMpE23RlGN4QNZbK6OSPOV6oFE3d&t=662

which shows what appears to be just such proof!

Is the man telling the truth, that the thirty thousand fatalities per year, were all from trying to grab a puff adder with their bare hands? If not, what's going on? Was that particular snake just trained to be tame? Is it really representative of what they will typically do?

  • 2
    Timestamped link for those that want it: youtu.be/…
    – bob1
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 4:11
  • 1
    Most snakes want nothing to do with people, and just want them to go away. Their venom is metabolically hard to make, and best used on actual prey.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 12:54
  • 1
    It depends on the situation. I accidently stepped on a copperhead once , it was a cool morning and he made no effort to strike. I thought it was a garden hose when I felt it ( did not see it). About a half hour later ,I encouraged him with a stick to leave the yard. Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 14:58
  • 1
    Hi guys I went fishing today at Suikerbosrand near Meyerton I have stepped on a Puff adder and it didn't bite me not sure why
    – Morne
    Commented Apr 15, 2023 at 16:09

2 Answers 2


The comments above rightly iterate the fact that snakes want to be left alone and they would use whatever natural mechanism to evade. Coming to your questions:

Is the man telling the truth, that the thirty thousand fatalities per year, were all from trying to grab a puff adder with their bare hands?

This can't be true. Puff Adder snakes have the tendency to rely on their camouflage rather than slithering away. However, it is just unsafe to assume that a snake won't bite back despite stepping on it. To be on the safer and sane side, don't do it. I'd assume that the guy in the video doesn't seem to have ill intentions behind providing this slightly misleading information. The only rationale I can think is, to educate the people with the fact that snakes are dangerous but aren't necessarily enemies of mankind. I'd start with saying "If you leave them alone, they mean no harm to you." - may be the guy intends to say the same in different words.

What's going on? Was that particular snake just trained to be tame?

It isn't enough to set a benchmark for all the Puff Adders. The behavior would change with the same species of snake and from situation to situation. I have observed dangerous snake such as Saw-scaled viper (which is one of the most ferocious biting snakes) exhibit different behavior from time to time. When it was captured, all it wanted to do is strike. Then a couple of days in captivity meant it was agitated already. It was fed and then for some reason it was moved. And we saw that it had regurgitated the lizard and was only looking to get away without striking back. So, you can't have such a small sample size for an experiment and conclude. I am certain that multiple such experiments would yield astonishingly different results.

Is it really representative of what they will typically do?

Not really, you can't rely on any such observation. Its just safe to assume that best possible thing to do is to leave them alone.

A bit of reading about the snake itself makes a few facts clear. Quoting from Wiki:

The scientific name of Puff Adder is Bitis arietans. The word arietans means "striking violently" and is derived from the Latin arieto.


Having lived all my life in Southern Africa and seen many Puffadders (as well as being part of a snake club which held a number of them in captivity), I can assure you that a Puffadder will bite you if you stand on it, and quite likely if you stand very close to it..

If you approach it or try to handle it it will typically hiss a warning before striking. They strike extremely fast - if you are in range you will not see it coming or be able to move out of the way.

Being slow-moving snakes which like to lie in the sun and rely on their camouflage, Puffadder bites are fairly common. However the venom is relatively slow acting and fatality rates per bite are lower than snakes such as cobras or mambas, particularly if the patient seeks treatment.

Like most wild animals Puffadders will bite if they feel threatened, but if you give them space they would rather escape than attack. However, because they are slow moving they tend to stay still for longer than other snakes, allowing close approach before they start to hiss. Keep clear and treat them with respect and you will not have problems with them.

Do not try to handle them unless you are an expert.

Looking at the video I have two comments - 1) it shows that these snakes will not bite if they can avoid it - they are not evil creatures wanting to injure humans. When he walked past the snake was ready to strike but didn't feel sufficiently threatened; and 2) I think that when he tapped it with the stick it knew the stick wasn't worth biting and also it was a gentle tap which wasn't going to do any damage. I'm confident that standing on it (which would produce enough pressure to injure the snake) would result in a bite as the snake tried to protect itself.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.