A white-lipped tree viper is seen coil up on a tree branch in Bijia Hill Park in Futian District on July 29, 2021. Isaac Cohen
Ophidiophobia, herpetophobia or simply the fear of snakes, is a very common human feeling that comes embedded in us from our very own evolution. It denotes an innate instinct of survival. However, we are no longer a living-in-the-wild species and with the change of time, it is also true that snakes are more afraid of us than we should be of them.
Shenzhen, a city full of wildlife, is home to several types of snakes that include venomous, non-venomous and even a poisonous-venomous species, but there is one particular species that deserves to be in the spotlight: the white-lipped tree viper (Trimeresurus albolabris), also commonly known in China as the green tree pit viper or bamboo snake.
A white-lipped tree viper is seen coil up on a tree branch in Bijia Hill Park in Futian District on July 29, 2021.
The white-lipped tree viper has an attractive light green color on its back that goes from head to tail and a clear delimitation on the lateral scales with a pale yellowish color on the ventral part of the animal. The separation is more visible in males with some white scales all over their sides from head to tail. Both males and females have a stunning reddish color on the tail that offers a beautiful contrast to the green of their bodies.
This particular species is not too big, ranging from an average 15cm in newborns to an average 50cm in adults, although some have been reported to grow up to 90cm long. Their heads are visibly triangular, which is a common characteristic of vipers in general and clearly shows a separation between the head and the body of the animal. They use a pair of long fangs to inject venom into their prey, which causes a coagulation of the prey’s blood producing death in a very short time.
Despite their powerful venom, vipers seldom represent a threat to humans in any way. It is well known that snake attacks are mostly accidental or due to people recklessly bothering or trying to catch them. Sometimes, we are afraid of what we don’t know and our first impulse is to get rid of them, but the truth is that these fantastic animals are providing a very important ecological service and without them, we would probably be having a lot of inconveniences with other undesirable species.
There are several studies on tree vipers about the use of their venom for medical purposes, so protecting and preserving them is a must. It is also of great relevance to understand that we are the ones invading their habitats and not them invading our city. The next time you decide to take a stroll in the park during night time, just try to avoid touching the plants near the walking trails, where this snake tends to be, and if you ever find one, don’t try to touch them or get too close. Just keep walking and let them continue playing their role in nature’s circle of life.