Eyelash Palm Pitvipers
Last Updated: Sep 21, 2011
The eyelash palm pitviper, a venomous viper species, is one of Costa Rica’s most recognized snakes. Known for its striking color variations – eyelash palm pitvipers can be bright yellow, brown, green, and red – the snake is named for its modified eye scales, which resemble eyelashes.
Scientific Name: Bothriechis schlegelii
Status in the Wild: Common
Habitat: Cloud Forests, Rainforests, Tropical Dry Forests
Other common names for the snake are Schlegel’s viper, horned palm viper, and the eyelash mountain viper. In Spanish, a bright yellow specimen is called oropel, meaning "gold skin," while other color variations are generally known as bocaraca. The species has a lifespan of 12-16 years.
These snakes are considered moderately sized for pitvipers; males are smaller than females, each growing to a maximum of 27 inches and 32 inches, respectively. Eyelash pitvipers are arboreal and live on low-hanging brush and vines; hikers must be careful not to reach blindly for branches while walking in the forest. Though not aggressive, the snake will strike if threatened.
The species is primarily nocturnal, and like all pitvipers, possess a heat sensitive organ between each eye and nostril. These pit organs allow the snake to detect prey with body temperatures higher or lower than its own, making it a powerful night-time predator. They feed on small mammals, birds, frogs, and lizards.
They can be found throughout Central and northern South America, ranging from southern Mexico to Colombia and Venezuela. Their habitat consists of tropical rainforests, montane wet forests and cloud forests. Generally, eyelash palm pitvipers always live close to a permanent water source.
In Costa Rica, visitors have a good chance of seeing this snake in Tortuguero, the Southern Caribbean (particularly Cahuita National Park), Arenal and La Fortuna, and the Osa Peninsula, as well as other rainforest and wet forest environments. Eyelash pitvipers are easy to spot due to their bright colors and preference for low-lying branches and brush.
Eyelash palm pitvipers use their sense of smell to find their mate. Males compete for females, facing off in a wrestling match often referred to as “the dance of the adders”. The winner impregnates the female, who retains the eggs inside her body. Egg clutches range from 12 to 25 each. Babies hatch either inside the mother or just as she lays the eggs. One clutch may contain pitvipers of all color variations.
Juvenile eyelash pitvipers are born able to ambush prey immediately. They will stay with their mothers for approximately two weeks, until their first molt. After they leave their mother, eyelash palm pitvipers are solitary, seeking out fellow snakes solely for mating.
Status in the Wild:
Though previously considered threatened, populations of the eyelash palm pitviper have increased over the years. The species was removed from the CITES Appendix III threatened species list in 2002. Habitat destruction remains their largest threat. The eyelash palm pitviper’s natural predators include birds of prey, especially the great black hawk, as well as other snakes and large mammals.