Field dressing and cooking a puff adder

Puff adders (Bitis arietans) are widely distributed over the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa, except dense rainforest areas and Madagascar. A puff adder has a tell-tale flat head with a straight line between the eyes, a thick body with chevron markings, and a stumpy tail, which is longer in males than in females. Puff adders are not endangered in savanna- and grassland biomes of Southern Africa.

Puff adder behavior

In relaxed situations, puff adders move in a rectilinear fashion, and only when stressed change to a serpentine motion. If threatened, they coil up in an S-shape and hiss loudly at the intruder, therefore the name ‘puff adder’. They are wait-and-hit hunters, which rely on their camouflage. Surface vibrations will normally not startle them, which in turn is dangerous, as it easily happens to step on them. If they hit, they hit very fast. With a speed of over 5 m/sec (15 feet/sec).

Adders are hinged front-fang snakes and their venom is cytotoxic, which works by destructing tissue. A bite is connected with severe pain at the site of the bite. Thereafter swelling and blistering of tissue occurs around the bitten area, followed by death of tissue and later the onset of infection. The reason for death is mainly cardiac arrest. Polyvalent antivenom is available in areas and clinics where these snakes occur. Puff adders are responsible for more fatalities in Africa than any other snake species.

Processing of a puff adder

For educational purposes and as an exception, one puff adder male was taken out of the ecosystem. The students were shown how to process and cook a good-sized, meaty snake for sustenance in an emergency.

After humanly killing the snake, it was hung on its neck in a paracord sling. After making an incision around the neck and well behind the venom glands, the skin was pulled away from the body in a glove-like fashion.

At this point we have to add a warning: Snakes don’t die easily! They will move and wiggle around for a long time. Once, I found a big Boomslang (Dispholidus typus) on a road, which was rolled over by a previously passing car. The head with about 15 cm / 6’’ long neckpiece was completely severed from the snake. Both body and head were lying motionless on the road. When I tried to touch the head and neckpiece, the supposedly dead snake came to life again and the head and neckpiece tried to jump and bite me. Fortunately, I was faster and learned the lesson.

After completely removing the skin, the head and a 10 cm / 4’’ long neck piece behind the head were cut off. These parts contained the biting apparatus and venom sacks. All of it has to be either securely burnt or dug and covered into the ground. Thereafter, the snake has to be gutted and cleaned for further cooking.

Cooking of a puff adder

During that survival course, the snake’s body was initially browned in a pot together with onions. This however is not necessary, as available vegetables can also be prepared separately in a pot due to different cooking times of snake meat and vegies.

After browning, the snake was cut and hacked into fist-long pieces. These pieces were thereafter fried in a pan until fully cooked. Generally, frying such thick snake pieces is not easy, as these are half-round bent in both directions. Curvature is along the vertebrate and around the rips. And: the meat has to be cooked thoroughly through.

After quite a long cooking time the students were able to try the meat. And everybody was surprised, at how well it tasted. Not like chicken as the cliché goes, but more of a stringy, but flavorful, white meat. And the common opinion was, that in an emergency, the risk should be taken to harvest such a common species and sustain the own life.

The whole video of field dressing and cooking a puff adder can be found under the following link.

Lessons learned for field dressing and cooking of a puff adder:

  • It is risky business to catch and kill such a dangerous snake
  • When processing, special care has to be taken not to get in contact with the venom
  • A Leatherman or pair of pliers comes in handy for skinning
  • Small pieces of snake are easier to fry than larger ones
  • Puff adder meat tastes deliciously

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