Animal Fact Sheets

RANGE MAP

bushmaster range map

BUSHMASTER

 (Lachesis muta)


 

Classification and Range

Bushmasters are venomous snakes belonging to the class Reptilia, family Viperidae, subfamily Crotalinae and genus Lachesis. There are four bushmaster subspecies. The subfamily Crotalinae is comprised of species commonly known as pit vipers, such as rattlesnakes, copperheads, and water moccasins. The scientific name of the bushmaster, Lachesis muta, means - silent fate.” Bushmasters are native to southern Central America and almost all the northern half of South America. The range of the two Central American subspecies begins in southern Nicaragua and continues south to northern Colombia.

Habitat

Bushmasters are found in relatively cool, moist tropical forests from mountainous areas to coastal lowlands. Bushmasters are native to southern Central America and almost all the northern half of South America. The range of the two Central American subspecies begins in southern Nicaragua and continues south to northern Colombia. The two southern subspecies are found from central Colombia to central Bolivia, extending from the eastern half of Ecuador and northeastern Peru to the coastlines of northern Brazil, Guyana, French Guiana and Surinam. They are also found on the island of Trinidad and along the southern coast of Brazil.

Physical Characteristics

Bushmasters are found in relatively cool, moist tropical forests from mountainous areas to coastal lowlands. Bushmasters are native to southern Central America and almost all the northern half of South America. The range of the two Central American subspecies begins in southern Nicaragua and continues south to northern Colombia. The two southern subspecies are found from central Colombia to central Bolivia, extending from the eastern half of Ecuador and northeastern Peru to the coastlines of northern Brazil, Guyana, French Guiana and Surinam. They are also found on the island of Trinidad and along the southern coast of Brazil.

Life Span

Life span in the wild is unknown. In captivity, they typically live 12-18 years, with a recorded maximum life span of 24 years.

Diet

In the wild:Primarily small mammals. At the zoo:Domestic rats

Reproduction

The bushmaster is an oviparous species, which means they lay eggs rather than bear live young. The bushmaster is the only egg-laying pit viper in the Americas. Bushmasters are solitary except when mating. Males find receptive females by following scent trails left by females. Finding a female, he rubs his head and flicks his tongue along the sides of her body to state his intentions and make sure she is receptive. If so, he flips his body upside down on top of hers and rubs his spinal ridge back and forth in a sawing motion against her body to stimulate her. If she is coiled up, he may also strike her with the side of his body to encourage her to loosen her coils and allow him access. When she uncoils, they wrap their bodies around one another and mate in that position, sometimes remaining together for five or more hours.

When a female bushmaster is ready to lay her eggs, she finds a burrow built by another small animal to claim as her own, sometimes sharing the burrow with the animal that built it. She then lays eight to 12 eggs, each of which is white and slightly larger than a chicken egg. After laying her eggs, the female coils her body around them and guards them until they hatch 76-79 days later. She will not leave her eggs even to hunt during this period.

Life Cycle

Newborn bushmasters are about 20 inches (50 cm) long. They are pale-colored, with a bright orange or yellow tail tip they gradually lose as they get older. This may help the young bushmasters attract small, insectivorous mammals to eat. The colors of the young bushmaster will usually change to their dark adult pattern when the snake is between 1-2 years old. Sexual maturity is typically reached around 4 years.

Feel the Heat

The bushmaster, like other pit vipers, has a special adaptation that helps them detect their warm-blooded prey. They have two heat-sensitive pits, one on each side of their heads, halfway between their eye and nostril. These pits allow the snake to sense the heat difference between a small mammal and the cooler rocks, plants and other objects in the area. When a warm-blooded animal ventures closer than 20 inches (50 cm), the bushmaster can detect the prey entirely by its body heat, even aiming its strike without any other sensory information.

Location at the Zoo

Woodland Park Zoo’s bushmasters are located in the Tropical Rain Forest. As visitors enter the exhibit, they are immersed in a garden of tropical rain forest plants such as fan palms, bananas, cocoa, figs and hanging liana vines. The bushmasters can be found in the forest floor section of the building.

Conservation Connection

The population of bushmasters in the wild is unknown, due to their secretive habits and the dense forests and difficult terrain they typically inhabit. The extensive degradation and destruction of the tropical rain forests of South America is a major threat to this and many other plant and animal species.

Humans Need Snakes

The population of bushmasters in the wild is unknown, due to their secretive habits and the dense forests and difficult terrain they typically inhabit. The extensive degradation and destruction of the tropical rain forests of South America is a major threat to this and many other plant and animal species.

Reptiles as Pets

We do not recommend reptiles as pets for most people as they require very specialized diets and environments. We also receive hundreds of requests each year to take former pet iguanas, boas and other reptiles but we cannot accept these due to space, health and unknown backgrounds. If you need to find a reptile or amphibian a new home, we suggest you contact a local herpetological group in your area.

In the Puget Sound region, contact the Pacific Northwest Herpetological Society as a resource. If you do choose to get a reptile as a pet, please learn as much as possible about their care and the best species before making your decision and never accept wild-caught animals as pets or release non-native reptiles or amphibians into the wild.

How You Can Help!

The effort to save endangered species requires cooperation and support at the international, national, regional and individual levels. You can help in this cause. Join and become active in Woodland Park Zoo and other conservation organizations of your choice. Please do not buy products made from wild animal parts. Contact your elected representatives and express your views about conservation of endangered species and wild habitats.

To learn other ways you can help, contact Woodland Park Zoo at webkeeper@zoo.org about supporting conservation programs at the zoo. Discover more about snakes by contacting the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles at 303 W. 39th St., PO Box 626, Hays, KS 67601, or the American Federation of Herpetoculture: AFH, P.O. Box 300067, Escondido, CA, 92030-0067. Learn other ways you can help conserve wildlife and habitats by visiting our How You Can Help page.

Sources and Suggested Reading

Bauchot, Roland (Ed.). 1997. Snakes: A Natural History. Sterling Publishing Co., New York, NY. 220 pp.

For Kids!

Bauchot, Roland (Ed.). 1997. Snakes: A Natural History. Sterling Publishing Co., New York, NY. 220 pp.

More Resources

Burton, Maurice 1975. Encyclopedia of Reptiles, Amphibians and Other Cold-Blooded Animals. BPC Publishing Ltd., San Sebastain, Spain. 229 p

Grzimek, Bernard 1975. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia Vol. 6: Reptiles. Van Nostrand Rheinhold Company. New York, NY. 468 p.

EMBL Reptile Database. (07/06/01) Engelmann, Wolf-Eberhard and Fritz Jurgen Obst, 1982. Snakes: Biology, Behavior and Relationship to Man. Exeter Books, New York, NY. 222 p.

Ripa, Dean. 1994. “- Reproduction of the Central American bushmaster (Lachesis muta stenophrys) and the Black-headed bushmaster (Lachesis muta melanocephala) for the first time in captivity.” Bull. Chicago Herp. Society 29(8):165-183.

Kinkaid, John. 1999. - "Your Silent Fate Awaits You,” ZooNooz, San Diego Zoo & Wild Animal Park, January 1999.

Bennett, Albert F. - "Bushmaster,” Discovery Channel School, original content provided by World Book Online, (07/14/01)

Bushmaster Taxonomy

Phylum: Chordata
Class:Reptilia
Order:Squamata
Family:Viperidae
Genus:Lachesis
Species:L. muta

Bushmaster Fascinating Facts

  • Bushmasters produce an enormous amount of venom. The average yield of dried venom from a bushmaster is 411 mg (0.014 oz), compared to just 52 mg (0.0018 oz) from the copperhead!
  • Their heat-sensitive pits allow a bushmaster to detect a heat difference of just 0.0036° F (0.002°C)!
 
 
 
 

©2014 WPZ is a registered 501(c)(3) non profit