Creatures of the Amazon
The Fer-de-Lance

By Adrian Walker

Bothrops asper

The Fer-de-Lance, scientifically known as Bothrops asper or B.atrox is a commonly occurring and widespread elapid (front fanged) snake of the Pit Viper family. The name derives from the French word for spearhead and refers to the typical viper head shape. An excitable and aggressive snake it is found in a wide range of habitat types although rarely above 2000 in altitude. More common on the eastern slopes of the Andes records of the species extend to Iquitos and the species is known to enter human housing at times.

Bites are common with a fatality rate of around 5% with many bites being preventable in that any attempt to kill these snakes will result in a defensive attack.

Like other Pit Vipers the Fer-de-lance is able to spit venom with great accuracy and distances of up to 2 metres have been reliably recorded. This mechanism allows the snake to temporarily blind its prey, thus making capture easier. Birds and small mammals are the main items of the diet.

The Fer-de-lance is primarily a terrestrial species yet can climb and has been observed in low bushes and shrubs. Its preferred hunting technique is to lie camouflaged amongst leaves and strike quickly at passing prey from a S-shaped coiled position.

Normal length is around 1-1.5 metres although larger specimens up to 2.2m have been noted by specialists in the field.

Generally, the species should be avoided as bites can cause death without prompt treatment and will result in a range of symptoms including extreme pain, necrosis of the affected area and trauma related shock.

Precisely which species is found in Iquitos remains a matter of doubt with both B.asper and B. atrox possible in the local area and confusion between these similar species is commonplace.

Other species also referred to as Fer-de-Lance are known from Martinique and St. Lucia but by far the most widespread form is B. atrox ranging from Mexico to Ecuador at lower altitudes.
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