Genus 22 genera in the subfamily Crotalinae
Species 150+ Species
Pit Viper Basics
Members of the Crotalinae subfamily with infrared-sensing organs on the front of their faces are known as pit viper. From Australia to Arizona, the term “pit viper” refers to about 150 distinct species that may be found all over the globe in settings as varied as the desert and the rainforest. Rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, copperheads, moccasins, the white-lipped pit viper, and many other pit vipers belong to this group.
Pit organs on the top lip of a pit viper are used to locate and identify prey. Pit organs sense electromagnetic radiation in the same way as the eyes do. These specialised organs, on the other hand, detect infrared light rather than light in the “visible spectrum”—the wavelengths that humans can perceive. Pit vipers’ pit organs, according to scientists, enable them to “see” body heat, which helps them to determine the size and nature of their prey.
Pit vipers possess specialised muscles around their fangs, which allow them to deliver venom into their prey more efficiently. The venom of pit vipers differs between species, which, in several cases, has evolved to be more effective against the target species on which the pit viper typically feeds. Based on the species, pit viper venom includes neurotoxins that produce paralysis, metalloproteinases that breakdown tissue, and proteins that inhibit blood from clotting. If left ignored, a pit viper bite may swiftly end in death, even in very large individuals.
Interesting Insights from the Pit Viper!
Whether you’re afraid of pit vipers or fascinated by them, they’re an excellent animal to use to demonstrate several key biological ideas. Let’s look at some of the ways these snakes may aid scientists in learning about other aspects of life.
Pit Viper Pit Organs
Pit organs may be found in a variety of snakes, not only pit vipers. These distinctive organs are also present in both boas and pythons. Nevertheless, a superficial and genetic inspection reveals that these organs have evolved on several occasions. Pit viper pit organs are all identical in form and structure, suggesting that they have the same genetic basis.
The pit organs of pit vipers consist of a shallow pit covered by a heavily perfused membrane. A vast number of neurons in this extremely sensitive region receive a variety of messages from the environment. These pits may also be seen in boas and pythons, despite the absence of a stretched membrane and the fact that the back of the pit is only extremely well perfused. Pit vipers contain two large pits on every side of the head, whereas boas and pythons often possess many pits on the upper lip.
These organs are so acute that a pit viper may still locate and attack prey even if it is completely blind. This was shown in laboratory experiments wherein pit vipers were blinded for a brief duration. All the snakes were still able to hit their prey with pinpoint accuracy. This is only one piece of evidence that implies pit vipers use information from their pit organs to build mental images, keeping them equally or more responsive than eyes. This sensation might potentially be used by snakes to decide which locations are optimal for basking or cooling down.
Pit vipers, unlike other snake species that deposit eggs, are mostly ovoviviparous. This implies that the eggs stay within the female for many months and mature. The eggs hatch within the female when they are completely mature, then crawl their way out into the world. Compared to depositing eggs, this mode of reproduction has various benefits.
First and foremost, since she carries her eggs with her at all times, the female can readily defend them. This may not be the best method for snakes with weak defences. If a female gets consumed, for instance, her offspring also die. On the contrary, pit vipers are unlike other snakes. They are frequently identified by dangerous colours or, in the event of the rattlesnake, a dangerous rattle. This, together with their formidable venom, helps pit vipers fend off lethal predators, making it safer for the female to deliver her eggs.
Second, the female could always control the warmth of her eggs precisely (since pit vipers are good at maintaining their body temperature). It might be dangerous to lay eggs in a nest. Even if the female finds a good nest location before laying her eggs, years after the female has laid her eggs and gone, a number of conditions may render that location undesirable. As a result, ovovivipary is a good tactic for pit vipers.