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Atractaspis boulengeri
General Details, Taxonomy and Biology, Venom, Clinical Effects, Treatment, First Aid , Antivenoms
Family: Lamprophiidae
Subfamily: Atractaspidinae
Genus: Atractaspis
Species: boulengeri
Subspecies: boulengeri , matschiensis , mixta , schmidti , schultzei , vanderborghti
Common Names
Boulenger's Burrowing Asp , Central African Burrowing Asp , Boulenger's Burrowing Adder
Sub-Saharan Africa
Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Cabinda
Taxonomy and Biology
Adult Length: 0.40 m
General Shape
Small in length, cylindrical, moderately thick bodied ( for this genus ) burrowing snake, with a very short pointed tail ( ends abruptly in a small spine ). Can grow to a maximum of about 0.60 metres. Head is small, short, conical and indistinct from neck. Snout is broad and flattened. Eyes are tiny in size with round pupils ( pupils not clearly visible ), dark, and set well forward. Dorsal scales are smooth and shiny without apical pits. Has large, hollow, erectile front fangs which protrude from the corner of a partially closed mouth.
Forest regions of the Zaire River basin and extending into savanna.
Fossorial and nocturnal. Seen only at night in search of prey or a mate and after heavy rains. They strike their prey with an almost closed mouth, a single fang at a time moving sideways, downwards and backwards. The action is made possible by a ball and socket like articulation of the connection between the maxillary and prefrontal bones. Very mild disposition. They do not attempt to bite if approached or disturbed ( unable to strike forwards ) preferring to escape. If cornered they arch their neck with their head pointed toward the ground in an inverted "U" shape. If provoked they may wind their body into tight coils and thrash their head from side to side or jerk violently. They are almost impossible to hold safely by hand.
Ground dwelling, smooth bodied lizards, amphibians and small rodents.
Species Map
Small (Approx 20k) version
General: Venom Neurotoxins
Not present
General: Venom Myotoxins
Not present
General: Venom Procoagulants
Not present
General: Venom Anticoagulants
Not present
General: Venom Haemorrhagins
Not present
General: Venom Nephrotoxins
Not present
General: Venom Cardiotoxins
Indirect cardiotoxin (endothelin-like activity of sarafotoxins)
General: Venom Necrotoxins
Possibly present
General: Venom Other
Not present or not significant
Clinical Effects
General: Dangerousness
Moderate envenoming possible but unlikely to prove lethal
General: Rate of Envenoming: Unknown
General: Untreated Lethality Rate: Unknown but lethal potential cannot be excluded
General: Local Effects
Local pain, swelling, bruising & blistering
General: Local Necrosis
Common but usually not severe
General: General Systemic Effects
Variable non-specific effects which may include headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, dizziness, collapse or convulsions
General: Neurotoxic Paralysis
Unlikely to occur
General: Myotoxicity
Not likely to occur
General: Coagulopathy & Haemorrhages
Unlikely to occur
General: Renal Damage
Unlikely to occur
General: Cardiotoxicity
Indirect cardiotoxicity (ischaemia or infarction) due to endothelin-like activity of sarafotoxins
General: Other
Not likely to occur
First Aid
Description: First aid for bites by Atractaspid snakes (mole vipers, burrowing asps)
1. After ensuring the patient and onlookers have moved out of range of further strikes by the snake, the bitten person should be reassured and persuaded to lie down and remain still. Many will be terrified, fearing sudden death and, in this mood, they may behave irrationally or even hysterically. The basis for reassurance is the fact that many venomous bites do not result in envenoming, the relatively slow progression to severe envenoming (hours following elapid bites, days following viper bites) and the effectiveness of modern medical treatment.
2. The bite wound should not be tampered with in any way. Wiping it once with a damp cloth to remove surface venom is unlikely to do much harm (or good) but the wound must not be massaged.
3. All rings or other jewellery on the bitten limb, especially on fingers, should be removed, as they may act as tourniquets if oedema develops.
4. The bitten limb should be immobilised as effectively as possible using an extemporised splint or sling; if available, crepe bandaging of the splinted limb is an effective form of immobilisation.
5. If there is any impairment of vital functions, such as problems with respiration, airway, circulation, heart function, these must be supported as a priority. Seek urgent medical attention.
6. Do not use Tourniquets, cut, suck or scarify the wound or apply chemicals or electric shock.
7. Avoid peroral intake, absolutely no alcohol. No sedatives outside hospital. If there will be considerable delay before reaching medical aid, measured in several hours to days, then give clear fluids by mouth to prevent dehydration.
8. If the offending snake has been killed it should be brought with the patient for identification (only relevant in areas where there are more than one naturally occurring venomous snake species), but be careful to avoid touching the head, as even a dead snake can envenom. No attempt should be made to pursue the snake into the undergrowth as this will risk further bites.
9. The snakebite victim should be transported as quickly and as passively as possible to the nearest place where they can be seen by a medically-trained person (health station, dispensary, clinic or hospital). The bitten limb must not be exercised as muscular contraction will promote systemic absorption of venom. If no motor vehicle or boat is available, the patient can be carried on a stretcher or hurdle, on the pillion or crossbar of a bicycle or on someone's back.
10. Most traditional, and many of the more recently fashionable, first aid measures are useless and potentially dangerous. These include local cauterization, incision, excision, amputation, suction by mouth, vacuum pump or syringe, combined incision and suction ("venom-ex" apparatus), injection or instillation of compounds such as potassium permanganate, phenol (carbolic soap) and trypsin, application of electric shocks or ice (cryotherapy), use of traditional herbal, folk and other remedies including the ingestion of emetic plant products and parts of the snake, multiple incisions, tattooing and so on.
Treatment Summary
Burrowing asp bites mostly cause minor effects, but severe local effects, including necrosis, can occur, as can potentially lethal systemic effects, so all cases should be urgently assessed, have ongoing cardiac monitoring, receive supportive & symptomatic treatment. Antivenom is not generally available.
Key Diagnostic Features
Local pain, swelling, blistering, necrosis, ± cardiotoxicity (myocardial ischaemia)
General Approach to Management
All cases should be treated as urgent & potentially lethal. Rapid assessment & commencement of treatment including appropriate antivenom (if indicated & available) is mandatory. Admit all cases.
Antivenom Therapy
No antivenom available
No Antivenoms
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