First off, please understand that we here at Slither and Crawl Pets don’t ever recommend you keep venomous reptiles as pets or in your home. They can and do escape, which can lead to tragedy. Also, keeping a venomous reptile may not be legal in your state or area, so always check with all of the prevailing laws first.
The eyelash pit viper gets its name from the raised scales just above its eyes that resemble eyelashes. These eyelash scales are thought to be either for the protection of the snake’s eyes as it moves through its tight environment, similar to its keeled scales, or to help break up the silhouette of its head to better hide itself in the bushes and shrubbery.
There doesn’t seem to be a 100 percent agreement to the purpose of the eyelashes, but the aforementioned reasons make sense to me. Just below the eyelashes are their eyes. Eyelash pit vipers have long vertical slits for pupils. Another noticeable feature about this snake is the triangular-shaped head, which is a trait that some venomous snakes have.
This snake is a pit viper and therefore has a pair of heat-sensitive pits between its eyes and nostrils, which it uses to help it find a potential meal, by “seeing” its prey’s body heat. These pits also help pit vipers to be able to spot not just prey but a potential predator as well to help it stay away from harm. Mother Nature helping out her own again.
The eyelash pit viper, aka the eyelash lancehead, eyelash palm viper, horned palm viper, and eyelash viper to name a few of the other common names, is native to parts of Mexico and through western Venezuela, some parts of Panama, Costa Rica, Peru, Columbia, and Ecuador. Depending on where the snake comes from, the colors will vary greatly. Some eyelash vipers are gold, gray, red, green, and brown. Some have speckles throughout their body pattern, while others have stripes, and others just have their pattern. This is a truly beautiful snake that has elevated camouflage to an art form.
Eyelash pit vipers are ambush predators and will lie motionless for very long times waiting for a meal to get close enough to strike. Eyelash pit vipers will also use the caudal luring technique (link of explanation provided in the Food section) to bring prey closer to them to secure a meal. They are an arboreal snake and use their prehensile tail to climb around in the shrubs, tree limbs, and banana crops, and on the rough bark of palm trees.
Eyelash pit vipers are a beautiful snake, no doubt about it. They are also a venomous snake with a very toxic combination of mainly hemotoxic venom mixed with some neurotoxic venom. This particular venom affects the central nervous system and the cardiovascular system, which make an eyelash pit viper’s venom capable of doing real damage, even to the point of possibly causing death, depending on the severity of the bite.
An eyelash pit viper should not be your first snake. Eyelash pit vipers are not considered aggressive snakes; however, they are not docile or tractable at all. You should always treat these snakes with the respect they deserve, or you may get bit. Always use a snake hook or two and wear thick safety gloves when you have to move them, but because they have that prehensile tail, getting them out of the enclosure can be a chore.
You have to use the snake hook in combination with another snake hook, long tongs, or long forceps to gently tap the eyelash viper’s tail so it will let go of whatever it’s holding. Just be careful the snake doesn’t think you’re trying to hurt it. It could let go of the branch and grab on to you, fangs first.
Before purchasing an eyelash viper, always check the laws to see if you can legally own a venomous snake in the area you live or are going to house the snake. I know there are several places that require at least one permit to do so. There are quite a few places in the United States that won’t allow you, as a private citizen, to own a venomous reptile at all. You may want to check with your homeowner’s insurance as well to make sure you are covered, in case someone gets bitten, including you.
As always, I recommend you get your reptiles from a reputable captive breeder. There are fan sites and dedicated websites to only the eyelash pit viper. There are also reptile shows that travel around to different areas/states. You will meet breeders, as well as like-minded people, at these shows and gain the opportunity to make friends and contacts, and in this hobby, those are good things for sure.
When you buy from a reputable breeder, you will get a snake that is parasite free, is eating well, and has already shed at least once, which is a sign of a healthy snake. The snake will also be used to human presence, though it may not care for it.
Hatchling eyelash pit vipers are between 6 and 8 inches. Female adults can reach up to 2 feet, while male adults grow to reach 18 inches.
Eyelash pit vipers, like all reptiles, need proper husbandry to avoid health issues. Proper husbandry includes things like keeping the enclosure and its decorations clean using reptile-safe cleaners, providing the snake with clean water regularly, and spot cleaning the poop and urates as needed. All snakes can get abscesses, become anorexic, and even get constipated. For a more complete list of snake health issues, click here.
Eyelash pit vipers can live for 16 to 20 years in captivity (always something to have in mind when thinking about keeping a snake or other exotic pet).
A secure lid with a lock, or a tightly fitting sliding or front-opening door with a lock, is necessary for everyone’s safety. Arboreal snakes like eyelash pit vipers require more vertical space than floor space. Eyelash vipers climb and move through brush, shrubs, and tree branches in the wild, so make sure to have plenty of secure branches for them to use in the enclosure. You don’t want your pet crawling around on a branch and have that branch fall down on top of it. This could lead to an injury, and an injured eyelash viper won’t be easy to remove from the enclosure to take to the vet.
Make sure all decorations are secured properly. Have branches that range in thickness as eyelash pit vipers will often lay on the ones that are about half their body’s diameter. By using different diameter dowels or branches, the snake will have its choice of perches to use, and as the snake grows, you can take out the ones that are too small and replace them with larger diameter branches or dowels.
Plants like Pothos are great snake-safe plants to use inside the enclosure. They provide cover and more places to crawl for the smaller snakes. Also, because it is a live plant, it will need to be watered, and that extra watering helps with the humidity levels.
The size of enclosure will vary based on where you want it to sit, how large you want the enclosure, what decorations you want, and the size of your budget. The eyelash pit viper’s enclosure should measure no less than 18 in. x 18 in. x 36 in. This gives the snake plenty of room and height to move around and allows for ventilation so the substrate can dry out without the growth of molds and mildews.
Do not use any aromatic woods like cedar or pine. They are known to cause respiratory infections in reptiles. Because eyelash pit vipers will be spending most of their time in the branches and hiding in the plants, you can use quite a lot of different materials for substrate. Anything from paper towels or ripped up newspaper will also do just fine. Cypress mulch works well for a more natural look and it helps hold moisture while not allowing fungus to grow. These are two very important qualities for a substrate to have. This way you can mist or even spray heavier or more often without any negative effects. Again, make sure the enclosure dries out completely before spraying again.
Lighting and Temperature
During the daylight hours, the temperature should stay between 79 degrees and 82 degrees Fahrenheit, and the basking area should be about 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Overnight, the temperature can drop to 73 degrees to 76 degrees Fahrenheit. Never use under tank heaters to heat an enclosure. They have been proven too many times to be a fire hazard. Use a ceramic heat emitter or heat panels when/if necessary to raise or maintain proper temperatures in the enclosure.
Eyelash pit vipers are primarily nocturnal snakes; however, they are also arboreal, so during the daytime, they don’t go into a hide box or underground like other snakes. They find a nice shady branch to drape themselves on, a banana bunch to lie in, or even the rough bark of a palm tree to lay on and rest.
Because they don’t retreat underground or bother to try to conceal themselves like that, I would imagine that having a full-spectrum light bulb on would provide some health benefits, as well as heat to help keep the temperatures in the correct zone.
Having a light on will also help the snake regulate its circadian rhythm. You can pick up a digital timer at any home store or building supply store, and they are very inexpensive. Set the timer so the light stays on for 10 hours a day, and that should help the snake—and any live plants you may have in the enclosure—thrive.
Because they come from different countries and altitudes, the humidity level of one eyelash viper to another will vary. A good rule of thumb is to keep the enclosure’s humidity level between 60 percent and 70 percent. Make sure to look into your particular eyelash viper’s humidity requirements.
Eyelash pit vipers are primarily nocturnal ambush predators, so feed them about an hour after lights out using only a nighttime or “moonlight” type of bulb, to keep it as normal as possible for them. Eyelash pit vipers sit and wait for a prey item to get close and strike out at it and inject the prey item with its venom.
If the prey item needs a bit more convincing to get closer, this viper is known to wiggle its tail as a lure (caudal luring), so it can entice the prey item to get close enough to be bitten. In the wild, an eyelash pit viper’s prey includes frogs, lizards, small rodents, and the occasional hummingbird that gets just a bit too close. Once the prey item succumbs to the effects of the venom, the viper swallows it whole.
In captivity, the eyelash viper’s diet should consist of frozen/thawed mice and small rats of appropriate size, which means that the diameter of the mouse or rat should be no larger than the largest diameter of the snake’s body. Always follow the recommended thawing instructions for the prey items.
Hatchlings are obviously much smaller than adults, so they need small prey items. I have read that there are people that have success with feeding hatchling vipers tiny cricket frogs (genus Acris) and anoles until the snake grows large enough to take down pinkie mice parts like the haunches or the entire pinkie mouse whole.
Because eyelash pit vipers are sit-and-wait predators, they don’t expend as much energy as a more active hunting snake, so you should only feed young or juvenile eyelash vipers 1 to 2 times per week while they are still growing to their adult size. Once they reach adult size, you can feed them once every other week. At this point, they can take fuzzy mice, hopper mice, or even rat pups, depending on the size of your snake.
Always feed your eyelash pit viper, and any other venomous animal in your care, using long forceps or tongs. This way, the snake can’t mistake your hand for food and bite you. You don’t want that. If you are using a frozen prey item, you may have to jiggle the thawed prey item around a little bit to help coax the feeding response, but it shouldn’t take long. Usually, a few quick movements of the mouse on the end of the forceps is enough to provoke a strike and feed.
Please keep in mind that eyelash pit vipers are slender snakes with a slow metabolism, and what they eat out in the wild is less fatty than the mice/rats they are fed in captivity, so some care must be taken to avoid overfeeding these snakes. It’s because they are a thinner, more slender snake than other vipers that allows eyelash pit vipers to have the arboreal lifestyle to which they have become so well adapted.
Because eyelash pit vipers are primarily arboreal, similar to the green tree python, you may have to elevate the water dish to a height closer to the limbs/branches of the enclosure and maybe even use a small aquarium bubbler pump to provide some movement in the water. Eyelash vipers don’t like to come out of the cover very much: the levels of predation are much higher when they are out in the open.
Daily misting of the enclosure and the snake, directly and gently, with a hand spray mister should provide enough drinking water on the branches and on their body coils for eyelash pit vipers to get a good drink. There are great automatic misting systems on the market. Simply hook them up to a digital timer.
Be careful how much and how often you mist though. Molds and mildews harmful to any reptile can grow in that type of environment. Make sure the enclosure has dried out completely before heavily misting/spraying again. That and keeping up on proper husbandry go a long way to preventing health issues for your eyelash pit viper.
Handling and Temperament
As I said previously, eyelash pit vipers should not be your first snake, and they are not for the novice keeper.
Handling: Only handle your eyelash pit viper when necessary, and always use very careful handling procedures, a snake hook, and make sure the enclosure/container you are moving your viper into is ready to receive the snake. You don’t want to have an upset viper dangling off the end of your snake hook while you try to open the lid to the container it is going into. That could be a very painful mistake.
Temperament: Eyelash pit vipers have a nasty one, which is why you don’t handle them unless it’s necessary. With that said, eyelash pit vipers are reluctant to bite and only do so when they feel threatened. As I mentioned earlier, this snake’s venom is no joke: a mix of hemotoxins and neurotoxins that affects the central nervous system and the cardiovascular system. There have been human fatalities. These are display pets only.
More helpful guidelines:
- First of all: IF YOU ARE EVER BITTEN BY AN EYELASH PIT VIPER, SEEK MEDICAL HELP IMMEDIANTLY! YOU’RE IN TROUBLE!
- House the snake in an area outside of your home like a purpose-built, insulated shed that has locking doors that stay locked unless you unlock them. You don’t want this deadly little snake getting loose inside your home.
- Always make sure the enclosure is locked tightly and has absolutely no escape points. Eyelash pit vipers will look for them and find them if they are there. Freedom is better than an enclosure every day.
- Please don’t keep eyelash pit vipers on the same property as small kids. If ever one of these snakes got out, or worse, got let out by one of the children, it could be a deadly disaster.
- One last time: check your laws. Owning a venomous reptile is dangerous and may be illegal in your area.
This care information is a brief overview of a subject that has been covered in many books by respected authors and on many breeder forums. For more information, please consult a specialized book, visit one of the online breed-specific forums/message boards, or contact an expert in that particular field. Your pet will thank you for it.