20+ Thrilling Mamushi Snake Facts and Figures

The mamushi is one of the least well-known members of the snake family. In this comprehensive guide, we look at the whys and wherefores of this fascinating creature, looking into its habitat and habits. You can trust what we tell you because we don’t speak with a forked tongue, and we’re sure you’re going to enjoy learning about this venomous viper!

Table of Contents

1. Does the mamushi have any other names?

The mamushi is more properly known by the name Japanese mamushi but is also known as a Japanese pit viper, soil viper, Qichun snake, Japanese moccasin, or salmusa.

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2. What is the mamushi’s species name?

The species name (also known as the specific name) for mamushi is a Latin term: Gloydius blomhoffii, (pronounced Gloy-dee-oos blom-hoffee-eye’). This name is in honor of Jan Cock Blomhoff, director of a Dutch trading colony in Japan in the early 19th century and advocate of the first Japanese-English dictionary.

3. How many subspecies of mamushi exist?

There are four subspecies of mamushi.

  • The Japanese mamushi (Gloydius blomhoffii blomhoffii) is found in Japan only.
  • The Short-tailed mamushi (Gloydius blomhoffii brevicaudus) inhabits the Korean Peninsula and Northeastern China.
  • The Tung Ling mamushi (Gloydius blomhoffii dubitatus) is found only in a restricted area of Hebei Province in China.
  • Finally, the Yangtze mamushi (Gloydius blomhoffii siniticus) lives in only certain parts of China.

4. What does a mamushi look like?

The mamushi’s appearance is perfectly adapted for it to be camouflaged in its environment. The head is mostly black or dark brown and either beige or light gray on the sides and throat. The large eyes have vertical pupils, and a line runs horizontally from each eye to the back of the neck.

The color of the body varies between pale gray, rust, or brownish-yellow with a covering of patches. The patches vary in size and shape and are lighter inside with a dark brown or black border. This helps the snake hide amongst leaves and stones.

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5. How does a mamushi move?

Along its back, a mamushi has a ridge that allows it to transport itself with ease along or up any terrain, tree, or swamp. The short and tapered tail enhances its agility.

6. How big is a mamushi?

You may not think so if you encountered one, but a mamushi is medium-sized compared to other vipers. They have a stocky and muscular build and tend to grow between 25 and 31 inches (63 to 76 cm), although the largest recorded specimen was 36 inches (91 cm).

7. For how long does a mamushi live?

It will vary according to prey, predators, and environment, but a mamushi can live up to 15 years in the wild and around 25 years in captivity.

8. Where in the world does the mamushi live?

The mamushi lives in temperate areas in Japan, China, North Korea, and South Korea. You can find it on several Japanese islands: Shikoku, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Honshu.

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9. What type of habitat does the mamushi prefer?

Although the mamushi spends most of its time on land, it is a good swimmer and can even climb trees when it needs to. Whenever possible, it likes to avoid being out in areas that are too open, preferring instead to hide in meadows, mountains, forests, and rocky hills. It will also spend time in farmland, swamps, and marshes as these offer protection from predators and the elements and give it a chance to wait in ambush for prey.

10. How does the mamushi mate?

The mamushi reaches sexual maturity at three or four years of age and usually mates in late Spring or early Summer. There is often a great deal of competition between the males. This tends to lead to fighting, with the victor earning the right to mate with the female.

11. How does the mamushi reproduce? 

The female mamushi have special pockets that can store sperm, meaning they can give birth as long as three years after copulation has occurred. This adaptation means they will occasionally forego reproduction for two or three years. When gestating, the female mamushi carries the eggs for two or three months. Unlike many snakes, the mamushi is viviparous, meaning it gives birth to live young.

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12. What is life like for a baby mamushi?

The litter can have as many as 12 snakelets. They do not experience much parental care and can care for themselves from birth, eating insects and small animals until they grow bigger and improve their ability to hunt.

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13. Is the mamushi nocturnal?

As with most vipers, the mamushi is primarily nocturnal. However, during cooler months, it will also be fairly active during daylight hours.

14. What does a mamushi eat?

Japanese pit viper
Japanese pit viper

A mamushi is a predator that uses stealth and ambush. It hides in bushes or vegetation on the ground to strike at rodents, amphibians, small birds, lizards, and insects.

15. How does a mamushi hunt?

The mamushi’s pit organ is a heat-sensitive gland enabling it to locate food in the dark. The snake is unique among vipers because it hides, waits, and ambushes rather than stalking its prey. When the unfortunate animal strays too close, the mamushi strikes and injects it with venom, it will usually die within a few minutes and is then consumed by the viper swallowing it whole.

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16. How does the mamushi’s venom disable its prey?

Japanese pit viper (mamushi)
Japanese pit viper (mamushi)

The mamushi has two hypodermic needle-like fangs in its upper jaw that inject venom. The venom is remarkably potent, containing not only a toxin that breaks down red blood cells but two neurotoxins that attack the nervous system and brain, along with anti-coagulants which prevent the blood from clotting effectively.

17. What is the duration of treatments for envenomation?

Even after extended stays in intensive care, people who have suffered mamushi bites have been known to require months of painful outpatient treatment.

18. How does a mamushi sense its environment?

Like all snakes, the mamushi has a forked tongue. This is used to collect chemicals from the air or ground and put them in the Jacobson’s Organ inside the mouth, where they are then smelt.

Incredibly, the forked tongue means the mamushi can detect different levels of chemicals according to position, allowing it to construct a three-dimensional smell map’. This snake uses this ability to identify and locate prey, friend, foe, and shelter.

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19. Is a mamushi dangerous to humans?

Yes. The mamushi is known as one of the most dangerous animals and the most venomous snakes in Japan. Approximately 3,000 people in the country get bitten annually, and victims may need to stay in intensive care for up to a week. At least 10 of those people die each year.

20. Where is a mamushi most likely to bite a human?

The mamushi will often lurk in farmland or rice paddies in an attempt to capture rodents. In these locations, there is a chance it will encounter humans, in which case it may strike as a means to defend itself. Due to the positioning of the viper relative to the human, most bites are on the extremities.

21. What effect does the venom have on a victim?

As mamushi venom can have a severely detrimental effect on breathing, cognitive, visual, and kidney function can cause miscarriage, palsy, and devastating internal bleeding, being bitten presents a threat to life if not remedied within an appropriate timeframe. In short, try not to get bitten by a mamushi. If you do, get to a hospital as soon as possible!

22. What role does the mamushi play in the ecosystem?

The mamushi makes an integral contribution to humans’ interaction with the environment in the way it helps suppress the rodent population. Predation by this viper helps reduce the extensive and expensive damage rodents cause to farmers’ crops.

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23. Is the mamushi endangered?

Although the last 30 years have witnessed a sharp decline in the number of mamushi, the snake is not considered to be under threat. The drop in numbers is caused for the most part by urbanization encroaching on their environment and culls by fearful humans.

24. Does a mamushi make a good pet?

No. With all you’ve read it should be apparent that although the mamushi is a truly remarkable and beautiful animal, it is not suitable to be kept as a pet. Not only is it up there as one of the most dangerous creatures in the world, it has an aggressive temperament and powerful venom.

Those factors notwithstanding, the breadth of its habitat is difficult to replicate, and it can be quite particular about what it eats. The best, kindest and safest way to observe and keep a mamushi is in a serpentarium.

Summing up

We hope you’ve enjoyed this foray into the world of Japanese mamushi. Despite their potency and the fatalities they cause, it is clear these commanding animals are at far greater risk from humans than to them. It is incumbent upon us to do all we can to ensure their existence is not threatened, as it would be tragic to lose them.

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